Greenpeace warns of nuclear mishap

Shelly Pax, the Jerusalem Post
29 March 2007

The Dimona nuclear research center includes a heavy water reactor for producing plutonium or tritium, a facility to reprocess plutonium, another to reprocess uranium and create nuclear fuel, and yet another to enrich uranium, as well as storage for nuclear waste, according to Greenpeace.

Greenpeace representatives at the Tel Aviv press conference.
Photo: Eyal Warshavsky

Tritium is a radioactive isotope of hydrogen.

The NGO made these assertions in a report entitled "An Overview of Nuclear Facilities in Iran, Israel and Turkey," released at a press conference in Tel Aviv on Thursday timed to coincide with the arrival of its Rainbow Warrior flagship, currently on a three-month "Nuclear-Free Middle East" tour.

An earthquake or an attack at the Nahal Sorek research reactor, located 30 km. from Tel Aviv, could have disastrous consequences, according to the report.

And a meltdown at the Dimona facility could increase cancer rates in an area up to 400 kilometers in radius, reaching Cyprus, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority, it says.

"A reactor accident or leakage of nuclear waste from the facilities appears the most likely scenario," the report reads. "The consequences of an incident involving an explosion large enough to disperse plutonium from either the reactor or the reprocessing facility would be the most serious type of accident that could occur."

Nearby Yavne and the entire Tel Aviv area could face dire consequence from a release of radioisotopes being produced in the Nahal Sorek reactor, which has been in operation since 1960.

"People would be required to shelter within their homes, and possibly even be evacuated from an area several kilometers from the plant. Large-scale provision of potassium iodate (potassium-iodine) tablets to limit some of the long term impacts would also be required," the report says.

Finally, the report says Haifa's residents are at risk from an Israel Navy base whose submarines are capable of firing cruise missiles armed with nuclear warheads. "The main hazard, apart from the actual use of a nuclear weapons, would be from maintenance or from an accident while the submarine was on patrol, if it were to be carrying nuclear-tipped cruise missiles," the report says.

Greenpeace activists protest on the Tel Aviv beach front as 'Rainbow Warrior is seen in the background.
Photo: Eyal Warshavsky


"Plutonium burns easily and could create a toxic radioactive plume of plutonium particles contaminating a wide area downwind, a long-term environmental risk which can ultimately affect human populations."

Greenpeace's report also discusses potential hazards from four of Iran's nuclear reactors. Seventeen nuclear facilities are know to operate in nine Iranian cities.

"As the development of Iran's nuclear program matures and facilities are completed, the risk of an incident grows. There is a serious concern about the likelihood of a military strike to take out Iran's nuclear program. Furthermore, Iran is an area of seismic risk, with the likelihood of earthquakes in the region creating additional risks for its nuclear program," the report says.

Greenpeace called for urgent discussions to create a nuclear-free Middle East.

"Despite Israel's policy of nuclear ambiguity, international reports maintain that this country contains nuclear facilities," said Yonatan Leibowitz, Greenpeace Mediterranean Communications Director. "Israelis have the right to know where these facilities are and the right to understand the serious risks to health and the environment posed by these installations.

"Ambiguous policies about the possible existence of a nuclear program in Israel only serve to destabilize the region. A policy of honesty and transparency is in need to pave the way to nuclear free Middle-East," he said.

The Rainbow Warrior has already visited Dubai, Kuwait, Yemen, Egypt and Iran, where permission to anchored was not obtained. The tour will continue on to Beirut and end in Istanbul in mid-April.