Dimona Nuclear Reactor's Joint International Research Projects Revealed for First Time

Nuclear research center’s director cites cooperation with U.S., European and international bodies.

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Dimona nuclear reactor - AFP - January 2012
The nuclear reactor near Dimona.Credit: AFP

The nuclear reactor in Dimona is involved in 65 joint research projects with agencies abroad, including the United States Department of Energy, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the European Union and the International Atomic Energy Agency.

This information was revealed Tuesday by Dr. Ehud Netzer, director of the Nuclear Research Center-Negev, as the Dimona reactor is formally known, during a lecture in Tel Aviv at the 28th Conference of Nuclear Societies in Israel.

Officially, Israel doesn’t reveal information about international cooperation with the Dimona reactor, because it never signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and therefore such cooperation is ostensibly forbidden. The military censor has even forbidden publication of information about such cooperation several times in the past.

Last year, the then-head of the Israel Atomic Energy Commission, Dr. Shaul Chorev, did acknowledge such cooperation in an interview with the Nuclear Research Center’s employee newsletter, Pi Atom. “In recent years, we’ve greatly expanded our international cooperation,” he said. “The feedback I get from many joint ventures we conduct is that scientists from the NRC are at a very high level.”

However, Chorev never named the Western agencies involved in such cooperation.

Netzer, in contrast, named several such agencies in his address to the conference Tuesday, which was attended by 350 scientists from around the world. In addition to the Department of Energy, the EPA and the IAEA, he named the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre and France’s Alternative Energies Commission. He said the 65 joint research projects the Nuclear Research Center is involved in produced 80 scientific papers last year.

Netzer didn’t detail the nature of these projects. But from conversations with scientists at the conference, it seems they relate not to military uses of nuclear energy but to issues such as nuclear safety, protecting workers from radiation and dealing with radioactive waste. This is in line with NCR-N’s current focus on scientific research, in contrast to its original purpose.

Nevertheless, no foreign scientist has ever entered the Dimona reactor. All contacts with representatives of foreign countries take place at the Soreq nuclear reactor instead.

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