Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Article Warns of Risks of Attack on Israeli Nuclear Reactor

6 May 2008 20:07 Africa/Lagos

Article Warns of Risks of Attack on Israeli Nuclear Reactor

WASHINGTON, May 6 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ --

With Iran's continued pursuit of uranium enrichment capabilities and indications that a dozen countries in the oil-rich Middle East want to pursue nuclear energy, there are growing concerns about the spread of nuclear weapons-related technology in this volatile region.

Yet, as former Department of State official Bennett Ramberg writes in a new article published in this month's issue of Arms Control Today, a potential conventional or terrorist attack on Israel's reactor at Dimona poses another, less-noticed danger: the release of deadly radioactivity from the reactor, which has been used for Israel's own nuclear weapons program.

Ramberg, who served in the department's Bureau of Politico-Military Affairs during the George H.W. Bush administration, argues that "on balance, shutting down Dimona would reap both important security and political benefits."

Ramberg notes that only in the Middle East have there been military strikes on nuclear facilities. As recently as September 2007, Israeli Air Force jets struck and destroyed what U.S. intelligence asserts was a small, not-yet operational reactor near al-Kibar in Syria. In 1991, Saddam Hussein launched several Scud missiles toward Dimona and the United States bombed Iraq's research reactor at Tuwaitha. In 1980, Iranian aircraft attempted to destroy Iraq's Osirak reactor but missed the mark. In 1981, Israel conducted a successful raid on Osirak. Earlier in the 1980s, Iraq repeatedly attacked Iran's partially completed nuclear reactors at Bushehr.

Fortunately, in none of these cases were there radiological consequences because radioactive material had not been introduced, it had been removed prior to the attack, or the attacker missed the target.

Ramberg notes that outcome of a successful strike on the decades-old Dimona reactor could be different. The article, "Should Israel Close Dimona?" describes the extent of possible radioactive discharges in the aftermath of an attack on the Dimona reactor.

"Because of Dimona's relatively small size and remote location, only in the worst cases are populations in the hundreds or more found to be at risk, distributed over a large fraction of the Israeli and Palestinian population," the study finds. "A successful strike on an operating Dimona reactor that breached containment and generated an explosion and fire involving the core would present effects similar to a substantial radiological weapon or dirty bomb," according to Ramberg.

"For Israel," Ramberg warns, "the relative economic dislocation, population relocation, and immediate and lingering psychological trauma could be significant."

Ramberg concludes that "given mounting regional tensions and the capacity of Israel's adversaries to strike Dimona...closure would eliminate a radiological hostage." He suggests that Israel could manage some of the costs of closure or putting the reactor on cold standby, which would include an end to further plutonium production and capping the size of its nuclear arsenal.

"In addition, Israel could derive political and strategic benefits. It could claim that closure [of Dimona] marks a step toward a regional fissile material cutoff treaty in the effort to demonstrate its commitment to reducing regional nuclear tensions," Ramberg writes.

The full article is available at http://www.armscontrol.org/act/2008_05/Dimona.asp. More information on Israel's nuclear weapons is at http://www.armscontrol.org/country/Israel/.

The Arms Control Association is a nonprofit, nonpartisan membership organization dedicated to promoting effective arms control policies. It was founded in 1971 and publishes the journal, Arms Control Today.

Source: Arms Control Association

CONTACT: Miles A. Pomper, Editor, Arms Control Today, +1-202-463-8270
ext 108, mpomper@armscontrol.org; or Bennett Ramberg, +1-310-277-4192,

Web Site: http://www.armscontrol.org/

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