Reactor Sustaining Israeli Weapons Needs Overhaul, Expert Says

(Bloomberg) -- Israel needs to overhaul or replace the 55-year-old nuclear reactor that’s believed to supply a key material for the nation’s unacknowledged atomic weapons stockpile, according to a former director of inspections for the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The 26-megawatt Dimona reactor is where Israel gets its supplies of tritium, said Robert Kelley, a U.S. nuclear-weapons engineer who directed IAEA inspections in Iraq both in 1992 and 2001. The radioactive isotope is needed to detonate the armaments believed to be in Israel’s stockpile.

Without fresh sources of tritium, “the weapons become a military dud,” Kelley wrote in a report commissioned by Jane’s IHS. He also said Israel’s refusal to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty will complicate efforts to replace the reactor.

A spokeswoman for Israel’s Energy Ministry declined to comment. An email and phone calls to the Israel Atomic Energy Agency weren’t immediately answered.

Israel maintains a policy of ambiguity about its nuclear capability, declining to confirm or deny that it has atomic weapons.

Israel’s most famous nuclear whistle-blower, Mordechai Vanunu, spent 12 years in solitary confinement after being convicted of treason at a closed trial in 1986 for giving the Sunday Times of London details of the country’s nuclear arms program. The material included photographs taken inside the Dimona plant and indicated that Israel had a stockpile of about 200 atomic warheads.

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