Closing Dimona Wouldn't Stop Israeli Nukes

Editor's note: The author is a research physicist at Tel Aviv University and a member of the Israeli Committee for Vanunu. The following is adapted from his remarks at a May 26 International Women's Day rally in sight of the nuclear weapons reactor near Dimona, Israel.

by Dr. Daniel Rohrlich

In August, 1998, Israel joined an international initiative to cut off production of nuclear materials, i.e., plutonium and enriched uranium. Israel joined under heavy international pressure, after India and Pakistan had already yielded to this pressure, leaving Israel alone outside the international consensus.

But Israel only pretended to join. It has no intention of allowing international inspectors into the nuclear reactor at Dimona, as it has no intention of exposing its nuclear secrets.

How long can this pretense continue? One day, a treaty to cut off production of fissionable materials will be ready for signing, and Israel will have to decide whether or not to go along.

The Israeli public is not yet sufficiently informed to make a decision. How can the public be sufficiently informed when an Israeli citizen sits in an Israeli jail for reporting to the press on the extent of Israel's nuclear capability?

Signing a cutoff treaty would oblige Israel to demonstrate that it does not produce fissionable materials. If Israel is unwilling to open the Dimona reactor to international inspection, it has another option: to close and dismantle the reactor once and for all. It does not need the reactor. Israel already has enough fissionable material for hundreds of nuclear bombs. Over the decades, the reactor has produced hundreds of kilograms of plutonium. A cutoff would not affect this supply. Since the half-life of plutonium is 24,000 years, this plutonium would remain at Israel's disposal for thousands of years.

Thus, closing the Dimona reactor would not mean Israel's nuclear disarmament. As Dr. Ray Kidder, retired Livermore National Laboratory nuclear weapons designer, has stated, "Israel does not need the Dimona nuclear reactor to maintain its nuclear weapons capability."

Therefore, the demand to close and dismantle the Dimona reactor is not extreme. It is not radical. It is quite moderate. A global cutoff on the production of fissionable materials would preserve Israel's status as a nuclear power. And without such a cutoff Israel will not remain the only nuclear power in the region. Iran and Iraq are waiting for their nuclear weapons. They will not wait 24,000 years.