Israeli Ministries Clash Over Use of Nuclear Energy to Combat Greenhouse Gases

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A nuclear power plant in Germany. The energy ministry wants to build a nuclear plant in the Negev in place of a coal-powered plant in Ashkelon.
A nuclear power plant in Biblis, Germany. The energy ministry wants to build a nuclear plant in the Negev in place of a coal-powered plant in Ashkelon.Credit: Reuters

The energy and environment ministries are at loggerheads over whether Israel should build a nuclear power plant as part of its efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Ministry is to submit a proposal to the cabinet next week as part of its plan on energy efficiency and using renewable energy. The ministry’s plan includes canceling the construction of a planned coal-fired power station in Ashkelon and replacing it with a nuclear power plant, which the Environmental Protection Ministry objects to.

The energy ministry plan is intended to allow Israel to meet its targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, which the government committed to at this week’s UN climate change conference in Paris. It was not prepared in cooperation with the Environmental Protection Ministry, which is promoting its own plan.

The Environmental Protection Ministry called the energy ministry’s proposal “a classic case of letting the cat guard the cream.”

The two ministries were supposed to reach an agreement over their separate plans in recent weeks. However, the ministries did not reach an agreement – mostly because of a disagreement on the scope of the use of polluting fuels. While the environmental ministry is trying to formulate a new plan, the energy ministry has prepared its own program on energy efficiency and producing electricity from alternative energy. However, this plan lacks a key section on changing the mixture of fuels whose use needs to be reduced in order to lower pollution.

One of the sections states that the energy minister will be responsible for changing the Israel Electric Corporation’s development program – so that instead of building a new coal-fired power plant in Ashkelon, the feasibility of constructing a civilian nuclear power plant will be examined.

A location for such a nuclear plant has already been found and allocated near Shivta, in the Negev Desert. However, the nuclear plant faces a number of problems, chiefly that in order for Israel to make use of civilian nuclear power for generating electricity, it would have to commit to various agreements on the use of such energy for nonmilitary purposes.

The energy ministry plan includes 500 million shekels in government guarantees for investing in energy efficiency, as well as other steps to remove bureaucratic and other obstacles, and also includes targets for electricity production. The IEC objects to the inclusion of large quantities of alternative energy for electricity production in the plan, saying this involves high costs and operating difficulties, as well as high costs for transmission – and the ministry’s plan must take this into account.

The National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Ministry said it promotes every decision that will help meet the goals set by the government, and as a result has presented a plan for energy efficiency.

The Environmental Protection Ministry responded, “We have seen how air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions have been reduced under the energy ministry in recent years. The time has come for true cooperation on behalf of the health of the citizens of Israel.”

Eitan Parnass, the founder and CEO of the Green Energy Association of Israel, voiced dismay over the ministries’ bickering. “Instead of promoting green energy, Israel is busy with an argument over authority and promoting atomic energy,” he said. “The time has come for [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu to intervene in order for the speech he gave in Paris to change from a vision to practical actions.”

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