VIENNA - The Israeli Atomic Energy Commission will announce today that it is stepping up its supervision of two nuclear reactors in Israel and the handling of nuclear waste. The new measures will be mentioned in the speech which Dr. Shaul Horev, head of the commission, will make before a special session of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA ).
Horev is heading an Israeli delegation to the IAEA, and is accompanied by his deputy, Yishai Levanon, who heads the licensing and safety department at their organization.
In his speech Horev will note that Israel accepts and has been implementing the safety regulation standards of the IAEA, and that it has been active in all international forums which deal with the issue of nuclear safety.
Israel has two nuclear reactors: the Center for Nuclear Research at Nahal Sorek, and the Center for Nuclear Research in the Negev, in Dimona. The first facility is a small 5-megawatt reactor, which the United States provided to Israel in the 1960s as part of the Atoms for Peace Program. The reactor is under IAEA supervision and is visited by international inspectors twice a year.
The second reactor, officially, has a 24-megawatt capacity and was supplied to Israel by France in 1958. Foreign publications claim that Israel has increased this capacity to 50 or even 70 megawatts, and the general assumption in the international community is that the reactor produces fissile materials (uranium and plutonium ), which Israel uses for nuclear weapons.
Israel is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and refuses to allow IAEA inspectors to supervise or visit the Dimona reactor.
The Israel Atomic Energy Commission has said in the past that the two reactors, and especially the one in Dimona, have been upgraded, as have their safety standards, and that their operations are safe.
The conference of the IAEA, featuring the participation of more than 100 countries, is meant to augment international awareness concerning nuclear safety. This has become a major issue for the IAEA in view of the nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan, and specifically as a result of the criticism of the international organization and its Japanese director general, Yukiya Amano, for the way they have dealt with the crisis in Japan.
Diplomatic sources in Vienna say that in spite of the importance of the event, the resolutions made at the conference on nuclear safety will be of a general nature and each sovereign state will have to decide independently on the measures that it will adopt to ensure its own agenda in this realm.
Meanwhile, there is a considerable number of major questions relating to the effects of the recent disaster in Japan, including the number of people who were affected by the radiation which seeped out of its six-reactor complex. In any event, it is clear that the catastrophe has pushed into the forefront the issue of nuclear safety, and it has stemmed, if not reversed, the wave of support for nuclear energy as an alternative to fossil fuels.
Germany, for example, announced that it intends to shut down old nuclear plants by 2020, while in an Italian referendum, a majority voted against the construction of nuclear reactors.