Shimon Peres Negev Nuclear Research Center
The Shimon Peres Negev Nuclear Research Center (Hebrew: קריה למחקר גרעיני – נגב ע"ש שמעון פרס, formerly the Negev Nuclear Research Center, unofficially sometimes referred to as the Dimona reactor) is an Israeli nuclear installation located in the Negev desert, about thirteen kilometers south-east of the city of Dimona. In August 2018, it was renamed after the late President and Prime Minister of Israel, and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Shimon Peres.
Construction of the facility began in 1958 and its heavy-water nuclear reactor went active sometime between 1962 and 1964. Israel claims that the nuclear reactor and research facility is for research purposes into atomic science. However, the purpose of the reactor is believed to be the production of nuclear materials that may be used in Israel's nuclear weapons. Information about the facility remains highly classified and with respect to nuclear weapons, the country maintains a policy known as nuclear ambiguity—refusing either to confirm or deny their possession. Israel (with India, North Korea, Pakistan, and South Sudan) is one of five non-signatories to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, though it reportedly opened Dimona to U.S. inspection in January 1965, with inspections continuing until 1969. Israel is believed to have produced its first nuclear weapons by 1967, and it has been estimated to possess anywhere between 80 and 400 nuclear weapons.
The airspace over the Dimona facility is closed to all aircraft, and the area around it is heavily guarded and fenced off. During the Six-Day War, an Israeli missile shot down an Israeli Air Force Dassault Ouragan fighter that inadvertently flew over Dimona.
Construction commenced in 1958, with French assistance according to the Protocol of Sèvres agreements. The complex was constructed in secret, and outside the International Atomic Energy Agency inspection regime. To maintain secrecy, French customs officials were told that the largest of the reactor components, such as the reactor tank, were part of a desalination plant bound for Latin America. Estimates of the cost of construction vary; the only reliable figure is from Shimon Peres, who wrote in his 1995 memoir that he and David Ben-Gurion collected US$40 million, "half the price of a reactor ... [from] Israel's friends around the world."
The Dimona reactor became critical sometime between 1962 and 1964, and with the plutonium produced there, the Israel Defense Forces most likely had their first nuclear weapons ready before the Six-Day War.
In 2021, it was reported that based on satellite imagery, the complex was undergoing a major expansion. The new construction was estimated to have begun in late 2018 or early 2019.
When the United States intelligence community discovered the purpose of the site in the early 1960s, the U.S. government demanded that Israel agree to international inspections. Israel agreed, but on the condition that inspectors from the U.S., rather than the International Atomic Energy Agency, be used, and that Israel would receive advance notice of all inspections. According to declassified Johnson Administration documents, Israel opened Dimona to U.S. inspection in January 1965. Israel is one of five nations not to have signed the NPT (others are India and Pakistan, both of which have acknowledged having nuclear weapons), alongside North Korea which left the NPT. South Sudan is also a non-signatory.
Some claim that because Israel knew the schedule of the inspectors' visits, it was able to hide the clandestine manufacture of nuclear weapons, thereby deceiving the inspectors, by installing temporary false walls and other devices before each inspection. The inspectors eventually informed the U.S. government that their inspections were useless, due to Israeli restrictions on what areas of the facility they could inspect. By 1969 the U.S. believed that Israel might have a nuclear weapon, and terminated inspections that year.
Jet aircraft take-down
The Dimona reactor was overflown by unidentified jet aircraft before the Six-Day War in 1967. These planes were thought at the time to be Egyptian Air Force MiG-21s, although a controversial 2007 book argues that they were actually Soviet MiG-25s. During the war an Israeli fighter jet, damaged in a bombing raid over Jordan, was shot down by air defenses protecting the reactor after straying over it, killing the pilot, Captain Yoram Harpaz.
Nuclear weapons production
Mordechai Vanunu revelations
In 1986, Mordechai Vanunu, a former technician at Dimona, fled to the United Kingdom and revealed to the media some evidence of Israel's nuclear program and explained the purposes of each building, also revealing a top-secret underground facility directly below the installation. The Mossad, Israel's secret service, sent a female agent named Cheryl Bentov (née Hanin) who lured Vanunu to Italy, where he was arrested by Mossad agents and smuggled to Israel aboard a freighter. An Israeli court then tried him in secret on charges of treason and espionage, and sentenced him to eighteen years imprisonment. At the time of Vanunu's arrest, The Times reported that Israel had material for approximately 20 hydrogen bombs and 200 fission bombs by 1986. In the spring of 2004, Vanunu was released from prison, and placed under several strict restrictions, such as the denial of a passport, freedom of movement limitations and restrictions on communications with the press. Since his release, he has been rearrested and charged multiple times for violations of the terms of his release.
Safety concerns about the 55+ year-old reactor have been reported. In 2004, as a preventive measure, Israeli authorities distributed potassium iodide tablets to thousands of residents living nearby, in case of a release of radioactive iodine-131.
In January 2012, media reports indicated that the Israel Atomic Energy Commission had decided to temporarily shut down the reactor. The site's vulnerability to attack from Iran was cited as the main reason for the decision. In October and November 2012, it was reported that Hamas had fired rockets at Dimona and/or Negev Nuclear Research Center. In July 2014 Hamas again fired rockets towards the area surrounding the reactor. The facility was not harmed or damaged in any of the attempted strikes. In April 2021 a Syrian surface-to-air missile landed in the vicinity of the place.
In April 2016 the U.S. National Security Archive declassified dozens of documents from 1960 to 1970, which detail what American intelligence viewed as Israel's attempts to obfuscate the purpose and details of its nuclear program. The Americans involved in discussions with Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion and other Israelis believed the country was providing "untruthful cover" about intentions to build nuclear weapons.
Assassination of John F. Kennedy
In 2004, Mordechai Vanunu stated that the assassination of John F. Kennedy was Israel's response to "pressure [Kennedy] exerted on...Ben-Gurion, to shed light on Dimona's nuclear reactor in Israel". The Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi claimed during a United Nations General Assembly speech in 2009 that Israel had ordered the killing of President Kennedy because Kennedy had wanted to investigate the Negev Nuclear Plant.
- IAEA safeguards
- Israel and weapons of mass destruction
- Nuclear weapons and Israel
- Nuclear proliferation
- Soreq Nuclear Research Center
- Dimona Radar Facility
- At nuclear facility, Netanyahu lobs stark warning at Iran
- Nuclear Research Center.
- William 2013.
- "Lyndon Johnson Administration: Memorandum on Dimona Inspection and Nuclear Proliferation in the Near East". The Jewish Library. 5 February 1965. Retrieved 11 April 2019.
- Cohen 2010, pp. xxvii, 82.
- Mahnaimi 2007.
- Time 1976.
- Fox News 2001.
- Ben-Gedalyahu 2013.
- Aftergood, Kristensen 2007.
- Pinkus 2002.
- "Israel's Nuclear Weapon Capability: An Overview". Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control. August 1996. Archived from the original on 29 April 2015.
- staff, T. O. I. "Israel reportedly expands Dimona nuclear complex". www.timesofisrael.com. Retrieved 20 February 2021.
- UN 2005.
- Burr 2006.
- Ginor, Remez 2007.
- "How Israel's Dimona Nuclear Reactor Was Concealed from the U.S." Haaretz.
- Time, April 12, 1976, quoted in Weissman and Krosney, op. cit., 107.
- Timms 2004.
- AFP 2015.
- AFP 2004.
- Mahnaimi 2012.
- Debka 2012.
- Arutz Sheva 2012.
- Big News Network 2014.
- "Syrian missile lands near Dimona nuclear reactor, interception fails".
- Adaret 2016.
- SMH 2004.
- JTA 2009.
- Lynfield 2011.
- Cohen, Avner (2010). The Worst-Kept Secret: Israel's bargain with the Bomb. Columbia University Press.
- Hersh, Seymour M. (1991). The Samson Option: Israel's Nuclear Arsenal and American Foreign Policy. Random House. ISBN 0-394-57006-5.
- Burr, William; Cohen, Anver (2006). "Israel crosses the threshold". Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. 62 (3): 22–30. doi:10.2968/062003008.
- Pinkus, Binyamin; Tlamim, Moshe (2002). "Atomic Power to Israel's Rescue: French-Israeli Nuclear Cooperation, 1949–1957". Israel Studies. 7 (1): 104–138. doi:10.1353/is.2002.0006. JSTOR 30246784.
- Adaret, Ofer (21 April 2016). "Declassified: How Israel Misled the U.S. About Its Nuclear Program". Haaretz. Retrieved 24 November 2017.
- Ben-Gedalyahu, Tzvi (22 August 2013). "Rare Photos of Israeli Nuclear Research Center Released". Jewish Press. Retrieved 24 November 2017.
- Ginor, Isabella; Remez, Gideon (September 2007). "Foxbats Over Dimona: The Soviets' Nuclear Gamble in the Six-Day War". Foreign Affairs. Retrieved 24 November 2017.
- Lynfield, Ben (6 March 2011). "Gaddafi uses Israel to solidify his power". PRI. Retrieved 26 November 2017.
- Mahnaimi, Uzi (11 November 2007). "Israel on alert for Syria airstrike". The Sunday Times. Archived from the original on 26 July 2008. Retrieved 24 November 2017.
- Mahnaimi, Uzi (8 January 2012). "Israelis to shut 'vulnerable' nuclear plant in Iran's sights". The Times. Retrieved 24 November 2017.
- Melman, Yossi (17 August 2009). "Ex-staffer at Dimona Nuclear Reactor Says Made to Drink Uranium". Haaretz. Retrieved 24 November 2017.
- Ronen, Gill (14 November 2012). "First-Ever Terror Rocket Fired at Dimona Nuclear Plant". Arutz Sheva. Retrieved 24 November 2017.
- Timms, Dominic (12 November 2004). "Journalists condemn Israel for Vanunu arrest". The Guardian. Retrieved 24 November 2017.
- "Documentary Says Israel Got Nuclear Weapons From France". Fox News. 2 November 2001. Retrieved 24 November 2017.
- "Gadhafi points finger at Israel over JFK assassination". Jewish Telegraphic Agency. 23 September 2009. Archived from the original on 26 September 2009. Retrieved 26 November 2017.
- "Hamas aims Grad at Dimona reactor – payback for Khartoum raid". Debka. 28 October 2012. Archived from the original on 29 October 2012. Retrieved 24 November 2017.
- "Israel distributes radiation pills to residents near nuclear reactor". ABC News. 8 August 2004. Archived from the original on 10 August 2004. Retrieved 24 November 2017.
- "Israel stops rocket from hitting Dimona nuclear facility". israelNews.net. 10 July 2014. Retrieved 24 November 2017.
- "MIDDLE EAST: Violent Week: The Politics of Death". Time. 12 April 1976. Retrieved 24 November 2017.
- "Mordechai Vanunu placed under house arrest after giving TV interview". The Guardian. 10 September 2015. Retrieved 24 November 2017.
- "Vanunu warns Israel of 'second Chernobyl' risk". Sunday Morning Herald. 26 July 2004. Retrieved 26 November 2017.
- Aftergood, Steven; Kristensen, Hans M. (8 January 2007). "Nuclear Weapons - Israel". Federation of American Scientists. Retrieved 24 November 2017.
- Burr, William; Cohen, Avner (28 June 2013). "Israel's Quest for Yellowcake: The Secret Argentina-Israel Connection, 1963-1966". Wilson Center. Retrieved 24 November 2017.
- Cohen, Avner (3 October 2013). "The Avner Cohen Collection". Wilson Center. Retrieved 24 November 2017.
- Kintner, Edwin E. "The Avner Cohen Collection". Wilson Center. Retrieved 24 November 2017.
- "2005 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the NON-PROLIFERATION OF NUCLEAR WEAPONS (NPT)". UN. 2–27 May 2005. Retrieved 24 November 2017.
- US Army essay about Israel's nuclear weapons
- The Avner Cohen Collection, A collection of primary sources and interviews at the Nuclear Proliferation International History Project
- FAS's page about the Israeli nuclear program
- History of Israeli Nuclear Program
- Israel Special Weapons Guide
- Independent Thinktank Analysis of Israeli Nuclear Doctrine
- Animated video of the Dimona facility
- Armageddon — about Dimona written by Israelis
- Annotated bibliography for the Dimona nuclear complex from the Alsos Digital Library for Nuclear Issues