One of the founders Israel’s nuclear reactor at Dimona has raised concerns over the facility due to the secrecy surrounding the plant. Writing in the Israeli daily Haaretz, chemistry professor Uzi Even questioned whether an accident similar to the 1986 Chernobyl disaster in the former Soviet Union could happen in Israel.
According to Even, the Israeli plant does not suffer from the same design flaw and planning problems that led to the Chernobyl disaster, but admits that “the facts surrounding its operation have been kept secret”.
Suggesting that a Soviet-style secrecy surrounding the plant raises the level of risk, Even cited cases in which Israeli officials from its nuclear programme had falsified a report submitted to the Israeli parliament. “In 2004, I heard the representatives of the Israel Atomic Energy Commission with my own ears provide a false report to the Knesset Science and Technology Committee – of which I was a member,” said Even.
Even said he had raised “reservations” about the report but was told that “national security” required it. The terrible consequence of this type of state secrecy was one of the main themes of the recent five-part HBO drama about the 1986 Chernobyl disaster. The series illustrated the dramatic consequence of societies corrupted by secrecy and lies.
Concerned about the false information, Even revealed that he had twice been invited to a meeting for clarifications, which he labelled “implied threats”, with two heads of the Atomic Energy Commission. He said that at those meetings “I was warned not to pursue that direction, and the warnings worked on me”.
The Soviet-style secrecy with which Israel guards its nuclear programme grabbed global attention in 1986, when former Israeli nuclear technician and peace activist Mordechai Vanunu exposed details of Israel’s nuclear weapons program to the British press. Vanunu was subsequently lured to Italy by the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad, where he was drugged and abducted; he was secretly transported to Israel and ultimately convicted in a trial held behind closed doors.
Since his release in 2004 after spending 18 years in prison, Vanunu has been banned from leaving Israel and authorities have imposed restrictions on his movement. He is also not allowed to speak with foreigners without a government permit.
Even admits that if there was an accident or damage to the reactor at Dimona – located in the Negev desert in the south of Israel – the spread of nuclear waste to the surrounding environment would be a disaster that would last for decades or even centuries.
The secrecy that surrounds Israel’s nuclear programme is not the only source of concern. Three years ago scientists found 1,537 defects in the Dimona reactor’s core. Earlier this month it was reported that radioactive material had leaked from the nuclear reactor several times.