U.S. Expert: It's Safe to Release Vanunu

By Nitzan Horowitz
Ha'aretz Correspondent
January 26, 2000

WASHINGTON - A senior American scientist, Dr. Ray Kidder, has written in a letter to the Israel Justice Ministry that Mordechai Vanunu no longer holds any technical nuclear secrets.

Kidder's letter was written last November in preparation for possible deliberations over clemency for Vanunu, who is in prison for revealing Israeli nuclear secrets. The letter has come to Ha'aretz's attention in the run-up to a Knesset debate, the first of its kind, over Israel's nuclear policy.

"On the basis of this research and my own professional experience, I am ready to challenge any official assertion that Mr. Vanunu possesses any technical nuclear information not already made public," writes Kidder. Israeli security sources have claimed that Vanunu continues to hold nuclear secrets and objected to his release in May 1998, after he served two thirds of his sentence.

Following a request by the Israel Committee for Vanunu, Dr. Kidder, a nuclear scientist of international reputation, examined the materials published following the Vanunu revelations and talked with the Sunday Times reporter Peter Hounam and the scientist Frank Barnaby, who interviewed Vanunu in London in 1986. He also studied the photographs which Vanunu had taken of the nuclear reactor in Dimona, and consulted other American experts on nuclear weapons technology and nuclear arsenals. On the basis of his evaluation, Kidder determined that Vanunu has no more unpublished nuclear secrets.

Kidder's evaluation deals solely with the technical information which Vanunu held and does not touch on political aspects of the affair or on the implications of the Vanunu leak on Israel's nuclear policy. He says that Vanunu had little secret information because of his limited expertise in nuclear science and also because of the tight security restrictions surrounding Israel's nuclear project. According to Kidder, an experienced nuclear weapons designer and analyst, Vanunu's information on plutonium separation techniques are readily available in other sources.