A phosphate mine planned for Sde Barir in the south is likely to cause radioactive pollution in nearby Arad, a group of local residents opposed to the mine told the Knesset's socio-environmental caucus yesterday.

Radiation rates measured for the group, called We Want to Live Without Mines, found radioactivity at an abandoned mine in the area and in the phosphate-rich Sde Barir site to be between two and eight times higher than the permissible rate of exposure to the population.

The group said the data did not come from authorities certified to measure radiation rates, because it was difficult to find others willing to measure the rates since the planned mine has government support.

Rotem Amfert Negev, the ICL Fertilizers company slated to build the mine, said it could not respond to measurements taken by an anonymous source. It said reputable experts have concluded that "mining does not constitute a danger to area residents," but added that it would not build the mine at Sde Barir if "an objective examination determines that mining at Sde Barir does constitute a health risk."

MK Dov Khenin (Hadash ), who heads the Knesset's joint health and environment committee, asked State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss yesterday to conduct an urgent examination of the Prime Minister's Office's allegedly improper involvement in promoting the mining of radioactive phosphate at Sde Barir.

The PMO had previously commissioned a report that found that the mine poses no health risks, though a Health Ministry report reached the opposite conclusion."

The involvement of the Prime Minister's Office undermines the Health Ministry's official report, which found that mining at the site will damage the health of area residents," Khenin said yesterday. "Financial interests must not be allowed to trample professional reports, including those of Health Ministry experts. We must not abandon the residents of the area, or their health."

The anti-mine group said exposure to radioactive material would come from dust in the mine area that would be inhaled by residents of Arad and nearby Bedouin areas, causing internal radiation exposure.

Research conducted in the United States indicates that there is no threshold of internal radiation exposure considered safe, and that even low exposure could be a health risk, the group said.