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'Atom School' Stars in First Israeli Reactor Video

By Dan Williams
Jan 3 2005

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel has released the first video footage of its Dimona nuclear plant, a television station said on Monday, in an apparent attempt to promote a positive image of what experts believe to be an atomic bomb factory.

The first published images of Dimona, snapped secretly by technician turned activist Mordechai Vanunu in the 1980s, led experts to conclude that the Jewish state had nuclear bombs.

Channel 10 television said its tape of the plant, to be aired on Friday, showed technicians in various non-military activities -- mingling on the lawn, inspecting lab equipment and lecturing at an "atomic school" for disadvantaged youths.

The privately owned station did not say how it obtained the footage, but noted that it had been cleared by military censors who had for decades banned journalists from the desert site.

" A lot has been written and said about Dimona, almost all of it negative and critical," a senior Channel 10 staffer said on condition of anonymity.

" We were happy to discover that there are positive things there too -- such as high-schoolers learning in the most secretive place in the country."

Israeli officials had no immediate comment.

Keen to ward off regional foes while avoiding an arms race, Israel maintains a "strategic ambiguity" over a nuclear arsenal assumed to be the world's sixth-largest, neither confirming nor denying it exists.

Vanunu was jailed for treason after he gave the pictures and a tell-all interview to Britain's Sunday Times newspaper in 1986. When he was released last year, Channel 10 drew fire from the defense establishment by broadcasting a computer-generated simulation of the Dimona reactor based on Vanunu's revelations.

Ahead of a visit to Israel by U.N. nuclear watchdog Mohamed ElBaradei last July, the country's Atomic Energy Commission launched a Web site calling Dimona a research plant dedicated to "expanding and deepening basic knowledge of nuclear science."

ElBaradei has been pressing Israel to enter talks on regional disarmament, but it rules out any change in its nuclear policy before there is peace with its neighbors.

Israeli officials have also been keen to draw the world's attention to the nuclear program of arch-foe Iran. Tehran denies having hostile designs, and accuses Israel -- believed to be the region's only nuclear power -- of double standards.

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