Israel Boosting Defense of Nuclear Reactors Fearing Iranian Missile Attack

Despite precautionary measures against a targeted attack, the Israel Atomic Energy Commission believes a missile strike could be a propaganda achievement for enemy, but wouldn't endanger Israelis

Israel's nuclear reactor in Dimona.
JACK GUEZ / AFP

The Israel Atomic Energy Commission has been taking numerous steps to protect the nuclear reactors in Dimona and Nahal Sorek in light of assessments that Iran and Hezbollah see the reactors as preferred targets for missile attacks.

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Commission members have said that such a scenario is the greatest danger related to the reactors today. Recently the IAEC held a large training exercise that simulated a missile attack on one of the reactors, and included the evacuation of employees and actions to prevent a leak of radioactive materials.

A missile strike that hits a nuclear reactor would be a major propaganda achievement for Iran or Hezbollah, say commission members. But it would not endanger Israelis. For example, a senior official on the IAEC said that the c\Commission has moved its headquarters recently from Ramat Aviv in northern Tel Aviv to near the Nahal Sorek nuclear reactor – and even if a missile hits the reactor the employees will be safe. But the IAEC is aware that such a strike on a reactor would engender fear among the Israeli public and the commission is making preparations to explain such a situation correctly and accurately.

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Last month, at the biannual conference of nuclear scientists in Israel, a number of studies were presented concerning a missile strike on the nuclear reactors. Scientists at the Dimona reactor, located in the Negev desert in southern Israel, conducted this research as part of the preparations for such a scenario.

The studies discussed the most common type of reactor found in the world today, which also simulates those reactors found in Israel. Prof. David Ornai from Ben-Gurion University presented the dangers involved in a missile hitting the reactor or landing nearby at the conference. The risks include a breach of the reactor’s protective envelope, which could lead to a leak of radioactive gas, as well as a disruption to critical systems, most importantly the reactor’s cooling system, as a result of the shock waves.

Research by Ornai and others published last year found that a Scud missile landing within 115 feet (35 meters) of a nuclear reactor such as Dimona in southern Israel could cause damage to the internal systems responsible for operating and cooling it. The study, published in the Journal of Nuclear Engineering and Radiation Science, was written by Prof. Irad Brandys, an engineer at the Dimona reactor, and professors Ornai and Yigal Ronen, from Ben-Gurion University.

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It found that a Scud missile landing within 115 feet of a standard nuclear reactor could damage the concrete dome protecting the reactor and damage the control systems and facilities responsible for operating the reactor.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has threatened often that in any future round of fighting with Israel, his group would not only hit the tank where Israel’s stocks of ammonia are stored but also hit the Dimona nuclear reactor.

Last year, Nasrallah said: “In Israel, they know that Hezbollah has the possibility of reaching the nuclear reactor, which is antiquated, and it doesn’t require major force to hit.”