Israeli Nuclear

Gil Kornberg
February 22, 2017

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2017


Fig. 1: Mordechai Vanunu. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Israel first expressed interest in developing nuclear reactors in the late 1950s, early 1960s, for defense purposes. The Israeli Atomic Energy commission, (IAEC), was established on June 13th, 1952 by then Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion. [1] Despite having two nuclear facilities, the Negev Nuclear Research Center, and the Soreq Nuclear Research facility, neither of which house nuclear reactors for the purpose of power generation, Israel has maintained an ambiguous position on its nuclear arms capabilities. [1] The classified information leaked by whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu confirmed the suspicions of a weapons focused nuclear program in Israel. [2] In more recent years however, Israel has begun to express interest in building a Nuclear Power Plant. The Geological survey of Israel has begun mapping potential locations for a nuclear power plant in the country. [3] This is crucial to Israel's energy future. Most of its energy needs are satisfied by imports, mainly of crude oil. [4] Israel needs to become more energy independent for economic and security reasons. I will detail the history of Israel's nuclear weapons development, as well as the current plans for the construction of a new nuclear power plant.

Nuclear Weapons Capabilities

Being a small and isolated country surrounded by enemy nations, Israel had no choice but to become a nuclear power to deter their neighbors. Prime Minister Ben-Gurion forged a clandestine deal with France to obtain the necessary technology to create a nuclear weapon, and Prime Minister Meir negotiated a policy of secrecy with President Nixon to keep Israel's nuclear capabilities shrouded in secrecy. [1] The Journal of Palestine Studies details the French contributions to the nuclear program, based on information provided by a former technician at the Dimona facility, Mordechai Vanunu (see Fig. 1). [5] The journal confirms the existence of plutonium extraction technology, as well as a 26 megawatt reactor, both built by the French. [1] David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security estimates that, as of the end of 2014, Israel had approximately 115 nuclear weapons. [2]

Future of Nuclear Power

The IAEA, or International Atomic Energy Agency, details a three-phase framework for construction of a nuclear power plant, of which Israel is in the first, taking into account the necessary considerations before deciding to commit to a nuclear power plan. This includes beginning to map potential sites for a nuclear power plant. There is little certainty surrounding Israels nuclear program, and the plans for a power plant are no exception. This is due in part to Israel's security considerations, but also to the relatively early stages of its nuclear energy program. It is most likely only in the pre-program phase, far from the construction of their first power plant. infrastructure. [6]


While Israel is currently focused on nuclear weapons development, it has begun shifting its resources toward developing nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. It would be no small accomplishment if Israel could one day use nuclear energy to aid it in becoming energy independent.

© Gil Kornberg. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] A. Cohen, Israel and the Bomb (Columbia University Press, 1998).

[2] D. Albright, "Israel's Military Plutonium Inventory," Institute for Science and International Security, November 2015.

[3] I. Kurzon and N. Wetzler, "Defining and Mapping Capable Tectonic Sources For Seismic Hazard Estimation in Israel: General Analysis and Specific Focus For Nuclear Power Plants in Israel," Geological Survey of Israel, November 2015.

[4] G. Bahgat, "Israel's Energy Security: Regional Implications," Middle East Policy 18, No. 3, 25 (2011).

[5] R. Mandel, "Israel", The American Jewish Year Book 88, 364 (1988).

[6] N. Levin,A. Tishler, and J. Zahavi, "Evaluating Energy Options for Israel: A Case Study," Energy J. 7, 51 (1986).