The nuclear plant in Dimona
Photo: Reuters
Time to shut down reactor
Nuclear reactor in Dimona is like a volcano that can erupt at any moment

The earthquake in Japan this month and the Japanese government’s quick decision to shut down the world’s largest nuclear reactor, damaged as a result of the quake, are neither a local Japanese affair nor a regional one only. Once again, more than sixty years since it was bombed, the warning concerning the nuclear danger is coming from Japan.


Yet the warning bells regarding the danger of a horrific nuclear leak must resonate here in Israel too, before it’s too late.


The old reactor in Dimona is located on the Syrian-African rift. An earthquake similar to the one that hit Japan or the one that hit Turkey eight years ago may crack the reactor and leave Israel and its neighbors shrouded in a nuclear cloud. Then we will be left to die in great suffering along with our neighbors.


The dangers posed by the Dimona nuclear reactor to Israeli citizens and people of the region exist not only in case of an atomic war. Even without a war we are facing the constant danger of the nuclear volcano at our doorstep.


The Dimona nuclear reactor is already in the fifth decade of its existence, and according to international standards, including the American one, is considered an old and dangerous reactor that must be shut down. It is an old model and therefore any upgrades to it would not change its basic problems.


The many mishaps that occurred in the Dimona reactor in the past must serve as a warning sign and override the calming messages coming from the defense establishment, which argues that we have nothing to worry about.


Those who failed to prepare the home front in face of rocket attacks may also fail in the mission of preparing the home front vis-à-vis nuclear hazards. Over the years, the various Israeli governments have turned the country’s territory into a poisonous and poisoning nuclear garbage dumpster.


Today, the policy of ambiguity only works vis-à-vis the citizens of Israel. They cannot play the democratic role of monitoring their government in the nuclear realm, because the government is hiding the truth on a matter that all of our lives depend on.


Bill rejected by Knesset

Considering its size, Israel is currently second in the world in terms of the presence of high-grade plutonium, behind Britain, and in sixth place in the world in terms of accumulated quantities of high-grade plutonium. The large quantity of nuclear waste collected in the last decades may cause a wide-scale disaster whose effect would reach way beyond the Negev region in case of a mishap or earthquake.


Should there be a nuclear leak, it may poison our water sources and soil for hundreds and thousands of years. The reactor is old and safety measures are unknown to us. Even a mini-Chernobyl disaster as a result of human error or the reactor’s age could make Israel unfit for human life.


Back in March 2004, I submitted a bill aiming to shut down the nuclear reactor in Dimona. The bill was rejected by an automatic overwhelming majority of 65 against six and was taken off the agenda without a genuine attempt to address the arguments presented. Yet the dangers lurking in the shadows have not been removed and continue to threaten us.


It is particularly embarrassing that the hundreds of environmental groups and peace movements in Israel chose to remain out of bounds on the nuclear front, decided to maintain the right to remain silent, and refrained from placing the dangers associated with the Dimona nuclear reactor on their agendas.


Israel is one of the only countries in the world that have not given rise to a nuclear protest movement.


The earthquake in Japan and the decision to shut down the nuclear reactor there necessitate courageous thinking in Israel too that would result in an immediate shutdown of the Dimona reactor.


Issam Makhoul is a former Hadash Knesset member  


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