Israeli Tourism Minister Yariv Levin revealed that his government has officially said it plans to extend the operating life of the nuclear reactor at Dimona through 2040, when the facility will be 80 years old, although it was designed to run only 40 years.
Levin – who is known for his close relationship with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu– said last week that the decision was made after thorough studies and strict examinations of the reactor ensure its safety.
The reactor was built with French assistance at the end of the 1950s and first began operating at the end of 1963. The facility was based on a model of reactors designed to produce electricity for 40 years. It’s also the oldest reactor of its type still active in the world.
Israel has never recognized Dimona as a military nuclear reactor, as it is described abroad. Over the past 20 years, many warnings have been issued that operations at the facility pose a threat to the population of the area, in Israel and Jordan. Yet, tourism minister Evin justified its presence, saying: “In the distant past, it was determined that licenses would be initially restricted to 40 years, due to a lack of experience in the long-term operation of such reactors. However, as experience accumulated and following a thorough examination, it was decided to extend operations on an individual basis.”
Levin – who also serves as the cabinet’s liaison with the Knesset – said that “there are now nuclear power stations around the world with licenses to operate for 60 years, and the intention is to extend this to 80 years,” citing examples in the United States.
Meanwhile, Former MK Uzi Even, a professor emeritus of physical chemistry at Tel Aviv University and one of the founders of the Dimona reactor, said that the work of the commission supervising the safety of the reactor’s operations lacked transparency. Extending the life of the reactor would require a large investment of resources and money, including replacing aging equipment, he said.
Even said Levin’s statement that Israel’s reactor produces much less power than comparable nuclear power plants around the world is true but the power density is high, similar to a nuclear power plant – and possibly even higher, because the Dimona reactor is smaller. “As a result, the cumulative radiation damage to the reactor is severe, like in power plants, or even more, so there is no basis to the claim that the reactor is safer from the radiation damage that appears in other power plants,” he said.
“The Dimona reactor is the oldest of its type in the world,” Even continued. “It has operated since 1963 – almost 55 years. Over 150 reactors of its age, or younger, have already been closed around the world because of safety fears or because of accidents in their operation. Does the minister know these facts?” Even asked.