If Germany replaced its nuclear reactors built in the 1980's, then its time Israel replaced the reactor it built in the 1950's, says Haaretz Military Affairs commentator Yossi Melman.
In an interview with Israel National News, Melman said there was no doubt the situation in Japan is very serious. "The core of reactor number 3 melted. This is a reactor fueled by plutonium and if this material is released, the damage to the environment will be very serious. The danger of plutonium is exponential compared to uranium."
Melman noted the similarity between the disaster in Japan and the disaster which occured in Chernobyl. "It's exactly like what happened at Chernobyl. The situation in this reactor is very similar, except that in Japan most of the population has been evacuated. But the consequences in the coming years we already know. There is a radioactive cloud over Tokyo at the moment."
Melman argued, irrespective of the events in Japan, Israel should have decommissioned the reactor in Dimona long ago. "Our reactor is old, from the fifties. Germany closed reactors it built in the eighties. And here we have an older reactor. Our experts say the reactor was retrofitted, but some things are very difficult to improve in a reactor sixty years old. The core area is sealed with concrete and steel is very difficult to replace, unless you disable the reactor and remove the fuel rods."
He added that if, G-d forbid, a nuclear catastrophe happened in Israel, it would not resemble the current disaster in Japan. "Dimona is a research reactor, or according to foreign publications, a reactor to produce nuclear weapons. The Dimona reactor runs on 75 megawatts, while the reactor in Japan runs on 1000 MW. If there is damage to the reactor in Dimona the damage would be of a lesser scale. True, Dimona is close to the earthquake fault of the African Rift, but it poses less concern than an industrial power reactor in Japan."
Melman noted that the most serious obstacle to Israel's upgrading the Dimona reactor is that it hasn't signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. "There are countries like Israel, India and Pakistan who have not signed the treaty, that for obvious reasons do not want supervision. This makes it very difficult to get assistance from Western countries with the technology to upgrade the reactor."
Israel's refusal to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty stems from its long-term strategic policy of purposeful ambiguity vis-a-vis whether the Jewish State possesses nuclear weapons under which Israeli leaders have said, “Israel will not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons into the region.”
However, in a much criticized blunder, former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert broke the long standing taboo on discussing Israel's nuclear capability in 2006. "We never threatened any nation with annihilation. Iran openly, explicitly and publicly threatens to wipe Israel off the map. Can you say that this is the same level, when they are aspiring to have nuclear weapons, as France, America, Russia and Israel?"
Estimates of Israel's nuclear weapons stockpile are wildly varied and run from 75-400 nuclear weapons, including thermonuclear weapons in the megaton range.