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Israel Working on Civilian Nuclear Energy

Israel may be forced to explain and defend its decision to develop nuclear energy for civilian use at this week's Nuclear Summit in Washington D.C.
By Hana Levi Julian
First Publish: 4/11/2010, 2:56 PM / Last Update: 4/11/2010, 3:13 PM

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As Israel prepares to send a senior delegation to the U.S.-sponsored Nuclear Security Summit this week in Washington D.C., it may be forced to explain and defend its decision to develop nuclear energy for civilian use. Some 40 nations are expected to attend the gathering.

The decision was announced by National Infrastructures Minister Uzi Landau early last month at an international conference of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris. Both Israel and Syria announced at the conference their intentions to develop civilian nuclear energy.

We need this energy source because it is environmentally clean,” Landau explained to reporters at the time, adding that the plants will comply with strict safety and security standards.

Israel has always considered nuclear power to partially replace its dependence on coal, which has been blamed in part for global warming. Natural gas, also in heavy use in Israel, was recently found in abundance off the coast of Haifa.

Landau said, however, that he did not see any reason for inspectors to enter any other nuclear sites in Israel. Nor did Landau give any indication that Israel would sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, a document Israel has consistently avoided. The Jewish State continues to maintain a decades-long policy “nuclear ambiguity” -- silence on whether or not it possesses any nuclear arms.

This policy of ambiguity constitutes one of the pillars of Israeli national security and the Americans consider it very important,” Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon confirmed in a radio interview last week. There is no reason for the Americans to change their approach or for Israel to change its position.”

Israel and the United States have had a quiet understanding since 1969, under which the Jewish State has refrained from making statements about its nuclear status and carrying out any nuclear testing. All nuclear development activity in Israel is conducted under strict military censorship.

Ben Gurion University of the Negev recently opened a nuclear engineering program in conjunction with the nuclear plant in Dimona, which is expected to feed the new civilian nuclear energy program. The project comes as part of a larger plan by the Israel Electric Corporation (IEC) to build a nuclear power station at Shivta in the Negev, thus creating a need for more nuclear engineers. The 1,000 to 1,200-megawatt power station will combine nuclear and solar energy, and is expected to be operational by 2020.

On Friday, it was announced that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had changed his plans and would not attend the Nuclear Summit in Washington D.C. as previously planned. Analysts speculate that Netanyahu may fear the possibility of U.S. pressure to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty if he were to attend, as well as other types of pressure over Israel's nuclear development activities.

In addition, the Hebrew daily Maariv reported that the United States has recently been denying visas to Israeli nuclear scientists, with plans by employees at the Dimona nuclear reactor to travel to study at American universities being scotched the U.S. Embassy, despite the practice having been a common ritual in previous years. The U.S. government denied the claim.

Israel values the summit on preventing nuclear proliferation,” Ayalon said Sunday during a meeting with families of French Righteous Gentiles, on the eve of Israel's Holocaust Remembrance Day. However, the summit should not just discuss preventing terrorist organizations from acquiring nuclear weapons, but also rogue and terrorist states, like Iran. It is important to stop Iran now as time is running out, we can measure it in days and weeks.”