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Negev Nuclear Research Center

The Negev Nuclear Research Center as viewed from satellite

The Negev Nuclear Research Center (Hebrew: קריה למחקר גרעיני – נגב‎) is an Israeli nuclear installation located in the Negev desert, about thirteen kilometers to the south-east of the city of Dimona. The purpose of Dimona is believed to be the manufacture of Israeli nuclear weapons.[1] Israel acknowledges the existence of the site, but refuses to disclose any information about its purpose in a policy known as nuclear ambiguity. Information about the facility remains highly classified.

An estimate based on the known power of the reactor (at least 150 MW) concluded that enough plutonium for 100 to 200 nuclear bombs could have been produced by the year 2000.[2] The airspace over it is closed to all aircraft, and the area around it is heavily guarded and fenced off. During the Six-Day War, an Israeli missile shot down an Israeli Mirage III fighter that inadvertently flew over Dimona.[3][4] In 1973 a strayed Libyan airliner was approaching the airspace above Dimona facility. Israeli fighters shot it down after failure to make it follow them, killing 108 people.[5] [4]

Construction commenced in 1958, with French assistance according to the Protocol of Sèvres agreements.[6] The complex was constructed in secret, and outside the International Atomic Energy Agency inspection regime.[7] To maintain secrecy, French customs officials were told that the largest of the reactor components, such as the reactor tank, were part of a desalination plant bound for Latin America.[8] Estimates of the cost of construction vary; the only reliable figure is from Shimon Peres, who wrote in his 1995 memoir that he and David Ben-Gurion collected US $40 million, "half the price of a reactor ... [from] Israel's friends around the world."[9]

The Dimona reactor became active some time between 1962 and 1964, and with the plutonium produced there the Israel Defense Forces most probably had their first nuclear weapons ready before the Six-Day War. When the United States intelligence community discovered the purpose of the site in the early 1960s, the U.S. government demanded that Israel agree to international inspections. Israel agreed, but on the condition that U.S., rather than International Atomic Energy Agency, inspectors be used, and that Israel would receive advance notice of all inspections. Israel is one of three nations not to have signed the NPT (others are India and Pakistan, both of which have acknowledged having nuclear weapons.), and alongside North Korea which left the NPT.[10]

Some claim that because Israel knew the schedule of the inspectors' visits, it was able to hide the illegal manufacture of nuclear weapons, thereby deceiving the inspectors, by installing temporary false walls and other devices before each inspection.[11] The inspectors eventually informed the U.S. government that their inspections were useless, due to Israeli restrictions on what areas of the facility they could inspect. By 1969 the U.S. believed that Israel might have a nuclear weapon,[12][13] and terminated inspections that year.

The Dimona reactor was overflown by unidentified jet aircraft before the Six Day War in 1967. These planes were thought at the time to be Egyptian Air Force MiG-21s, although a controversial 2007 book argues that they were actually Soviet MiG-25s.[14]

Vanunu's photograph of a Negev Nuclear Research Center glove box containing nuclear materials in a model bomb assembly, one of about 60 photographs he later gave to the British press.

In 1986, Mordechai Vanunu, a former technician at Dimona, fled to the United Kingdom and revealed to the media some evidence of Israel's nuclear program and explained the purposes of each building, also revealing a top-secret underground facility directly below the installation. The Mossad, Israel's secret service, sent a female agent who lured Vanunu to Italy, where he was kidnapped by Mossad agents and smuggled to Israel aboard a freighter. An Israeli court then tried him in secret on charges of treason and espionage, and sentenced him to eighteen years imprisonment. At the time of Vanunu's kidnapping, The Times reported that Israel had material for approximately 20 hydrogen bombs and 200 fission bombs. In the spring of 2004, Vanunu was released from prison, and placed under several strict restrictions, such as the denial of a passport, freedom of movement limitations and restrictions on communications with the press. Since his release, he has been rearrested and charged multiple times for violations of the terms of his release.[15][16]

Dimona's reactor was defended by batteries of modified Patriot missiles in anticipation of strikes from Iraq in 2002 to 2003.

Safety concerns about this 40-year-old reactor have been reported. In 2004, as a preventive measure, Israeli authorities distributed potassium iodide anti-radiation tablets to thousands of residents living nearby.[17]

In 2006 a group of local residents was formed due to concerns regarding serious threats to health and safety from living near the reactor.

According to a lawsuit filed in Be'er Sheva Labor Tribunal, workers at the center were subjected to human experimentation in 1998. According to Julius Malick, the worker who submitted the lawsuit, they were given drinks containing uranium without medical supervision and without obtaining written consent or warning them about risks of side effects.[18]

In January 2012, media reports indicated that the Israel Atomic Energy Commission had decided to, at least temporarily, shut down the reactor. The site's vulnerability to attack from Iran was cited as the main reason for the decision.[19] In October and November 2012, it was reported that Hamas had fired rockets at Dimona and/or Negev Nuclear Research Center.[20][21] In July 2014 Hamas again fired rockets towards the area surrounding the reactor. The facility was not harmed or damaged in any of the attempted strikes.[22]

See also


  • Avner Cohen, Israel and the Bomb, University Press of Columbia (1999), ISBN 0-231-10483-9
  • Avner Cohen Collection, NPIHP, Woodrow Wilson Center
  • Seymour M. Hersh, The Samson Option: Israel's Nuclear Arsenal and American Foreign Policy, Random House (1991), hardcover, 354 pages, ISBN 0-394-57006-5
  • Warren Bass, 'Support Any Friend,' (Kennedy Administration policy towards Nasser and Israel)
  1. ^ "Israel's Quest for Yellowcake: The Secret Argentina-Israel Connection, 1963-1966". Nuclear Proliferation International History Project
  2. ^ Dimona-Reactor Detail
  3. ^ Mahnaimi, Uzi (November 11, 2007). "Israel on alert for Syria airstrike". The Sunday Times (Tel Aviv). 
  4. ^ a b "How Israel got the bomb – Special Report". Time. 1976-04-12. Retrieved 2011-09-30. 
  5. ^ New, David S. (2002). Holy War: The Rise of Militant Christian, Jewish, and Islamic Fundamentalism. USA: McFarland & Company. p. 173.  
  6. ^ "Documentary Says Israel Got Nuclear Weapons From France".  
  7. ^ Tzvi Ben-Gedalyahu (22 August 2013). "Rare Photos of Israeli Nuclear Research Center Released". The Jewish Press. Retrieved 24 August 2013. 
  8. ^ Federation of American Scientists, Nuclear Weapons – Israel
  9. ^ Pinkus, Binyamin; Tlamim, Moshe (Spring 2002). "Atomic Power to Israel's Rescue: French-Israeli Nuclear Cooperation, 1949–1957". Israel Studies (Indiana University Press) 7 (1): 104–138.  
  10. ^
  11. ^ Cohen, Avner. "Edwin E. Kintner." The Avner Cohen Collection. Nuclear Proliferation International History Project
  12. ^ Avner Cohen and William Burr, Cohen, Avner; Burr, William (May–June 2006). "Israel crosses the threshold". Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 62 (3): 22–30.  
  13. ^
  14. ^ Lawrence D. Freedman (September–October 2007). "Foxbats Over Dimona: The Soviets' Nuclear Gamble in the Six-Day War". Foreign Affairs. Retrieved 17 June 2014. 
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^ "Israel distributes radiation pills to residents near nuclear reactor".  
  18. ^ "Ex-staffer at Dimona nuclear reactor says made to drink uranium".  
  19. ^ Mahnaimi, Uzi (8 January 2012). "Israelis to shut 'vulnerable' nuclear plant in Iran's sights".  
  20. ^ "Hamas aims Grad at Dimona reactor – payback for Khartoum raid".  
  21. ^ Ronen, Gill (November 14, 2012). "First-Ever Terror Rocket Fired at Dimona Nuclear Plant".  
  22. ^ "Israel stops rocket from hitting Dimona nuclear facility". Israel News.Net. Retrieved 9 July 2014. 

External links

  • US Army essay about Israel's nuclear weapons
  • The Avner Cohen Collection, A collection of primary sources and interviews at the Nuclear Proliferation International History Project
  • Israel Atomic Energy Commission (IAEC)
  • FAS's page about the Israeli nuclear program
  • History of Israeli Nuclear Program
  • Israel Special Weapons Guide
  • Independent Thinktank Analysis of Israeli Nuclear Doctrine
  • Animated video of the Dimona facility
  • Armageddon — about Dimona written by Israelis
  • Annotated bibliography for the Dimona nuclear complex from the Alsos Digital Library for Nuclear Issues
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