Dimona Chief: Cancer Rates at Nuclear Plant Similar to Those of General Public

Dr. Ehud Netzer says there is no causal connection between working at Negev reactor and illness.

Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen
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Israel's Negev Nuclear Research Center, Dimona.
Israel's Negev Nuclear Research Center, Dimona.Credit: Reuters / Haaretz Archive
Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen

The director of the Negev Nuclear Research Center told his staff recently that the incidence of cancer at the Dimona site is similar to that of the general public. Dr. Ehud Netzer’s message came in advance of Sunday night’s Channel 10 report about workers at the plant suffering from cancer.

Last week, Netzer sent a memo described as “a message from the management” to all Dimona staff. In it, he warned that the purpose of the television report was “to create public pressure on the court discussing the morbidity lawsuits.”

According to the figures he cited, some 100 former and current employees at the nuclear reactor who contracted cancer have filed lawsuits, including a request to recognize their illness as resulting from their work at the Negev facility. According to management, most of the lawsuits were filed in the past three years.

“In most of the lawsuits on which work has already been concluded, no causal relation was found between their work and the illness, and they were rejected by the court,” wrote Dr. Netzer. He added that “all the surveys demonstrate clearly and unequivocally that the percentage of cancer cases among the employees at the reactor site is similar to the instance among the general population in Israel.”

In 2012, 44 employees at the southern Israel nuclear facility and their families filed a lawsuit against the Israel Atomic Energy Commission, claiming they had contracted cancer and other illnesses due to increased exposure to ionized radiation during their work at the reactor. It was discovered, for example, that employees participated in a search for uranium throughout the country protected only by dust masks and eyeglasses.

In the wake of the lawsuits, then-Justice Minister Tzipi Livni in 2013 appointed a public committee, headed by former Supreme Court Justice Eliezer Rivlin, to investigate the issue. The committee can set criteria for the existence of a connection between the illness and exposure to radiation or hazardous materials, as well as establishing the model for compensation for employees when a link is found between their work and the illness.

Representatives from the United States and Great Britain presented the compensation models used worldwide, and representatives of IAEC and cancer victims from the reactor spoke to the committee. The Rivlin committee will present its recommendations in the near future.

“The facility is confronting a serious dilemma. On the one hand, according to professional medical opinions, in most cases there is no causal connection between the work and the illness. Nevertheless, some of the plaintiffs give interviews in the media and bad-mouth the organization where they worked for decades,” Dr. Netzer wrote in the memo. “Years ago, the management made a basic decision not to be interviewed on the subject of our ill workers and pensioners, even if we are attacked and even when we can prove them wrong. That is still our policy: we don’t intend to react to the slander.”

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