Israel’s nuclear facility researching second desert waste disposal site

Israel’s Dimona Nuclear reactor facility is in the market for a new radioactive waste burial site, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported Monday.

The facility, located in the Negev desert, currently has one disposal site located near the grounds and is reportedly seeking a second.

According to a report on the Geological Institute website, the search for a second disposal site has already been underway for two years, and is focusing on sites in the southern part of the country, including the north-eastern Negev, the report said.

Israel has always pursued a policy of nuclear ambiguity, neither denying nor confirming the possession of atomic weapons. According to foreign experts, Israel is one of the world’s most powerful nuclear states.

Since it began producing plutonium in its Dimona reactor in December 1963, Israel has amassed between 400 to 915 kg of fissile material, with a median of 660 kg, according to a report by the Washington D.C.-based Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) published last November.

The fission process leaves a large amount of radioactive waste material.  The radioactivity lingers in dangerous amounts for tens of thousands of years.

The facility must dispose not only of waste from the fission process, but also equipment like the syringes used in diagnostic procedures, and clothing of any person who comes into contact with radioactive material, the report said.

Scientists have yet to find safe disposal methods for radioactive materials other than burying it.  Activists have long been raising alarms over this practice because of the risks to the immediate environment including animal life and ground water contamination.  The long term effects of burying radioactive waste is also unclear.

Waste from Dimona is monitored and disposed of in barrels by the Atomic Energy Commission, in accordance to protocols set by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said Haaretz.

Factors being taken into consideration for a burial site include geological stability should an earthquake strike, ground water flow in the area and geochemical elements that could aid in neutralizing radiation.

The reports also includes a proposal for an additional report examining outcome scenarios should these potential sites be chosen, the report said.

“A detailed study will allow all the information to be presented to the public, which is usually not enthusiastic to approve projects like this in its backyard. Meeting accepted international protocols during the general analysis of the site will be a major advantage. Community involvement at each important decision-making juncture will allow for cooperation in the final decision,” the report says.

According to Haaretz, the Geological Institute states that the report was commissioned by Dimona, however, officials at the facility denied this claim.

In a statement the Dimona facility said that “burial is executed according to strict international rules and regulations, only in the area of the Negev Nuclear Research Center. There is no change in this policy and there is no work on finding sites outside the center. In the natural course of things, the center is a focus of knowledge and researchers from the center are partners in outside studies by academic institutions and other bodies.”