Shut Dimona nuclear reactor, urges founding scientist
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Shut Dimona nuclear reactor, urges founding scientist

Aging facility ‘may be world’s oldest reactor,’ says Uzi Even, after 1,537 defects found at aluminum core; says Israel couldn’t build new one without international help

The Nuclear Research Center NEGEV, located in Dimona. (screen capture: YouTube, via Channel 10)
The Nuclear Research Center NEGEV, located in Dimona. (screen capture: YouTube, via Channel 10)

A scientist who was among the founders of the Dimona nuclear reactor on Tuesday said the 53-year-old facility should be shuttered for safety reasons, after a report detailed over 1,500 problems with the aging plant.

Dr. Uzi Even, a former Meretz party member, was responding to a report that said breakthrough ultrasound testing has revealed 1,537 defects and flaws at the aluminum core in Israel’s nuclear facility situated near the southern city.

Scientists who studied the aging nuclear reactor last year said that, for now, the defects don’t pose any immediate danger. The findings were released during a scientific forum held in Tel Aviv this month, Haaretz reported Tuesday, the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

“It doesn’t come as a surprise. I’ve been warning about this possibility for many years,” Even told Israel Radio.

Uzi Even (photo credit: CC-BY-SA Bulusaristo/Wikipedia)`
Uzi Even (photo credit: CC-BY-SA Bulusaristo/Wikipedia)

“It may be the oldest reactor in the world,” he said, adding that many of the nuclear plants built around the world in the 1960s have been shuttered.

Even urged Israel to halt operations at the site.

“If you’re asking me if there is a point in continuing operating a 53-year-old reactor, the answer is certainly not,” he said.

The nuclear physicist also criticized the limited monitoring at the nuclear site. Although Israel is not a signatory to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons — and is therefore not subject to scrutiny by the International Atomic Energy Agency — it has voluntarily accepted to operate in accordance with the IAEA’s safety regulations. An independent commission monitoring the reactor reports directly to the prime minister.

Only once has this commission revoked the operating license of a reactor for safety issues, according to Haaretz.

Even said Israel would not be able to build a new nuclear plant without international help, nor can it renovate the aging reactor in southern Israel.

Israel doesn’t have the capabilities to build a new reactor, he said, adding that “there is no one in the world who will agree to sell us such a reactor unless we sign” the non-proliferation treaty. Moreover, it cannot manufacture the parts needed to repair the site, he maintained.
“It had a very specific goal when it was founded in the 60s. But 50 years is a long time, and a lot has changed,” he said.

At the same time, he maintained that there had been no leaks from the reactor, as far as he knows, since it was built. The site is far smaller than those in Chernobyl or Fukashima, he said, and any fallout in the event of a leak would therefore be on a smaller scale. However, he said Israel ought to preemptively close down the site.

Archive photo from the 1960s of the nuclear reactor compound near Dimona, in southern Israel. (Reproduced from www.nsarchive.org with the permission of the National Security Archive)
Archive photo from the 1960s of the nuclear reactor compound near Dimona, in southern Israel. (Reproduced from www.nsarchive.org with the permission of the National Security Archive)

The core’s reactor is made of cement-coated metal. The fuel rods are inserted into the core, where nuclear fusion takes place. Over the years, the core absorbs tremendous amounts of heat and radiation, which slowly cause a degeneration of its materials.

The Dimona core, which was provided by France in the 1950s and put into action in 1963, was intended to be operational for up to 40 years. But it has exceeded the intended time frame by over a decade, to the consternation of scientists at the site, the Haaretz report said.

View of the Israeli nuclear reactor located in the Sorek valley in the Judean hills. Israel maintains two nuclear reactors, one in Nahal Sorek, and the other is the Negev Nuclear Research Center near Dimona. ( Yaakov Naumi/Flash90)
The Israeli nuclear reactor located in the Sorek valley in the Judean hills. Israel maintains two nuclear reactors, one in Nahal Sorek, and the other in the Negev Nuclear Research Center near Dimona. (Yaakov Naumi/Flash90)

When US diplomatic cables were leaked to the public as part of the WikiLeaks scandal, a telegram by the US Embassy revealed that in 2007 Prof. Eli Abramov, then deputy director general of the reactor, briefed senior Americans and told them the reactor’s systems were being changed.

But, according to Abramov, the core cannot be replaced as a solitary unit, and so a whole new facility must be built in order to accommodate a new one.

View of the Israeli nuclear reactor located in the Sorek valley in the Judean hills. Israel maintains two nuclear reactors, one in Nahal Sorek, and the other is the Negev Nuclear Research Center near Dimona. (Yaakov Naumi/Flash90)
View of the Israeli nuclear reactor located in the Sorek valley in the Judean hills. Israel maintains two nuclear reactors, one in Nahal Sorek, and the other is the Negev Nuclear Research Center near Dimona. (Yaakov Naumi/Flash90)

In light of the delicate state of the nuclear core, the reactor is not operated as often as it used to be, the report said.

Chernobyl nuclear plant workers in uniform attend a ceremony to commemorate victims of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster at the memorial to Chernobyl workers and firefighters in the town of Slavutych, Ukraine, early Tuesday, April 26, 2016. Ukraine was marking the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, when the 4th unit of the plant exploded early hours April 26, 1986. The city of Slavutych was built following the evacuation of Pripyat, the town of the Chernobyl plant workers, which was just 1.5 kilometers (about one mile) away from the plant. Some 50,000 Pripyat residents were evacuated after the disaster, taking only a few belongings. They never returned, and workers and their families now live in Slavutych. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
Chernobyl nuclear plant workers in uniform attend a ceremony to commemorate victims of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster at the memorial to Chernobyl workers and firefighters in the town of Slavutych, Ukraine, early Tuesday, April 26, 2016. (AP/Efrem Lukatsky)
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