Israel's Nuclear Reactor Seeks New Burial Sites for Radioactive Waste

Research report says Negev Nuclear Research Center looking at possible dump site in northeastern Negev, requiring careful environmental considerations.

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

The Dimona nuclear reactor facility is looking for sites in Israel for the burial of radioactive waste, in addition to the disposal site now operating near the plant. One possible area is in the northeastern Negev.

A major disadvantage of nuclear technology is the large quantity of highly radioactive waste produced by the fission process. The radioactivity in the water used in the process, for example, does not decay for tens of thousands of years.

According to foreign sources, Israel produces plutonium at the Dimona facility, which is the most radiological substance known in nature. In addition to direct radioactivity of waste, the clothing of personnel who come into contact with radioactive material is also contaminated, and radioactive residue from medical uses, such as syringes used to inject material used in diagnostic procedures, must also be disposed of.

Science has not yet found a solution to radioactive waste other than burying it, usually in barrels in the ground. But even this is only a partial solution because the burial sites are full of the dangerous material and the extent of damage to the environment is unclear.

In Israel, the Atomic Energy Commission is responsible for burying all radioactive material, which is collected at the Dimona facility, packed in barrels and buried hear the site. The commission follows disposal protocols set by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The Dimona facility, known officially as the Negev Nuclear Research Center, has been looking for additional burial sites for the past two years, focusing on southern Israel, according to a research report on the Geological Institute website.

According to the report, locations are being checked where the ground is geologically stable due to concern over earthquakes, where ground water flow is not extensive and where geochemical conditions can help neutralize contamination. A number of locales have been marked as possibilities in the northern Negev, north of Dimona and south of Arad.

At the end of the research report is a proposal for another report to examine specific scenarios for burial at those potential sites. The report adds that “a detailed study will allow all the information to be presented to the public, which is usually not enthusiastic to approve projects like this in its backyard. Meeting accepted international protocols during the general analysis of the site will be a major advantage. Community involvement at each important decision-making juncture will allow for cooperation in the final decision,” the report states.

Although the Geological Institute report states that it was commissioned by the Dimona facility, the facility denied this.

“Burial is executed according to strict international rules and regulations, only in the area of the Negev Nuclear Research Center. There is no change in this policy and there is no work on finding sites outside the center. In the natural course of things, the center is a focus of knowledge and researchers from the center are partners in outside studies by academic institutions and other bodies,” the Dimona facility said in a statement.

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