Ben Gurion University of the Negev has opened a nuclear engineering program in conjunction with the nuclear power plant in Dimona. The program is expected to feed “dozens” of future nuclear scientists into the Israel Atomic Energy Commission's Negev Nuclear Research Center in Dimona and the Israel Electric Company's hoped-for new solar-and-nuclear power plant.

According to the university's website, the Department of Nuclear Engineering already exists, offering “the only academic program in Israel that educates would-be engineers in the vital fields of nuclear energy, nuclear medicine, radiation biology, and radiation related technologies.” Degrees are offered at the undergraduate and graduate levels, including a doctoral program, with tracks offered in electrical and computer majors, nuclear applications and biomedical engineering.

The university's current program in nuclear energy engineering provides students with the opportunity to study design and analysis of all forms of nuclear power, their development, maintenance and improvement.

An internship at the Soreq Nuclear Research Center or at the Dimona plant is planned as part of the new program. Students will also attend lectures delivered by scientists from the Dimona facility.

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 new 1,000 to 1,200-megawatt power station will combine nuclear and solar energy, and is expected to be operational by 2020.

Sign of the Times

Until now, Israel has not been able to build a nuclear power station due to its unwillingness to sign the international nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Not being a signatory to the treaty has meant that Israel was unable to purchase a nuclear reactor from a Western manufacturer.

That situation may have changed, however, with the precedent set by the signing of an agreement between the United States and India, another non-signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

On October 8, 2008, former President George W. Bush ended a 34-year U.S. ban on nuclear trade with the southeast Asian country by signing into law the so-called U.S.-India nuclear deal. It was estimated that as a result of the controversial agreement, up to 27,000 “high quality” jobs would be created over the next decade.

One year later, the Indian government informed the U.S. It wished to order some $150 billion worth of U.S. nuclear reactors, equipment and materials, according to an October 2009 report in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.