Jump to search Jump to main navigation Jump to main content Jump to footer navigation

Negev Nuclear Research Center (NNRC)

Last Modified: Nov. 11, 2011
Other Name: Hakirya Lemchkar Gariini Ba-Nnegev (KAMAG)
Location: Dimona, Negev Desert, Israel
Subordinate To: Israel Atomic Energy Commission (IAEC)
Size: Unknown
Facility Status: Operational


According to the IAEC's website, the main purpose of the research conducted at the Negev Nuclear Research Center (NNRC) is to "broaden basic knowledge in nuclear sciences and adjacent fields and to provide the foundation for the practical and economic utilization of nuclear energy."[1] According to other reports and the revelations of Israeli nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu, the NNRC consists of ten different "machons" or institutes.

Machon 1 is the IRR-2 heavy water reactor. The Machon 2 facility is reportedly the most sensitive building in the NNRC, with six floors underground dedicated to activities identified as plutonium extraction, production of tritium and lithium-6. [2] From 1977 to 1979, Israel allegedly exported shipments totaling 30g of tritium to South Africa, suggesting "tritium production on a scale sufficient for a weapon-boosting program." [3] Machon 3 is reportedly dedicated to processing natural uranium into fuel rods to send to Machon 5, and conversion of lithium-6 into a solid form for weapons use. Machon 4 is a waste treatment plant for waste produced by chemical reprocessing at Machon 2. Machon 5 prepares the fuel rods from Machon 3 for use in a reactor by coating them with aluminum. Machon 6 is a facility for provision of chemicals, power and other basic services. Machon 8 tests the purity of samples from Machon 2 and experiments on new manufacturing processes. Machon 9 is home to a laser isotope reprocessing facility and Machon 10 chemically separates depleted uranium for eventual use in bullets, armor plating and artillery and bomb shells. Nuclear physicists Frank Barnaby and Theodore Taylor, among others, determined Vanunu's descriptions of the activities at Dimona to be credible. [4]

Research Reactor

The Israel Research Reactor-2 (IRR-2) is a heavy water cooled and moderated, natural uranium-fueled reactor of unverified origin and power capacity. [5] Initially, the original reactor power level was declared to be 26MWt, but estimates of the reactor's power have gone as high as 70 or 150MWt, based on information provided by Israeli nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu.[6] In Israel and the Bomb, Avner Cohen outlines Israeli-French nuclear collaboration during the 1950's and 1960's. During this time, France reportedly secretly agreed to build the IRR-2 reactor at Dimona.[7] Shimon Peres, the director general of the Israeli Ministry of Defense, signed a secret nuclear deal with France dated 3 October 1957.[8] The construction of the Dimona reactor was concealed as a textile plant or a metallurgical lab. Most of the site's facilities are located underground. [9] Prime Minister Ben Gurion formally announced in 1960 that the reactor and research undertaken at the Dimona facility were for "peaceful purposes." [10]

The reactor is not under IAEA safeguards. The IAEA reports that the IRR-2 went critical in December 1963.[11] The origin of the fuel supply is unknown. It is also unknown how many staff members operate the reactor or how often it is online. Israel has required foreign assistance in order to procure heavy water for the IRR-2. From 1956 to 1958, Israel consulted with Norway on purchasing 20 tons of heavy water. Norway agreed to re-purchase heavy water it had sold to Great Britain and transfer it directly to Israel. Norway transferred the heavy water in two shipments in 1960 and 1961.[12]


It is widely assumed that Israel reprocesses spent fuel from the IRR-2 to obtain plutonium for its alleged nuclear weapons program. [13] Estimates of the reactor's plutonium production capabilities vary according to assessments of the IRR-2's power capacity. Operating at 70 MWt, the IRR-2 could have produced as much as 700kg of plutonium at a production rate of 14-17kg per year. [14] If the power capacity reached 150 MWt, as Vanunu's testimony indicated, the reactor could have produced anywhere from 400 to 800kg of plutonium by the 1980s. [15] It is this uncertainty regarding the plutonium production capability of the IRR-2 that contributes to wide-ranging estimates of the size of Israel's nuclear arsenal.

Milling

Israel reportedly produces approximately 10 tons of yellowcake annually. Milling activities, including yellowcake and uranium oxide production, are suspected to be carried out at the Negev Nuclear Research Center. [16]

Conversion

Israel reportedly has a uranium conversion facility at Dimona that produces uranium dioxide. [17] Uranium oxide from the milling process requires additional processing to prepare it as fuel for a nuclear reactor. Uranium oxide is refined to uranium dioxide (UO2), which can subsequently be manufactured into fuel for the IRR-2 reactor. [18]

Enrichment

In a 1996 SIPRI publication, David Albright et al. reported that Israel had conducted laser enrichment activities, but the extent and success of these activities remains uncertain. [19] Mordechai Vanunu, who leaked information on Israel's nuclear program to The Sunday Times in 1986, claimed Israel pursued both gas-centrifuge and laser enrichment technologies for enriching uranium.

Fuel Fabrication

According to Israeli nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu, the Negev Nuclear Research Center (NNRC) has two facilities for fuel fabrication, Machon 3 and Machon 5. Machon 3 is dedicated to processing natural uranium into fuel rods and to conversion of lithium-6 into a solid form for weapons use. Machon 5 prepares the fuel rods from Machon 3 for reactor use by coating them with aluminum. [20]

Reprocessing
Numerous sources report that Israel carries out plutonium reprocessing at the Negev Nuclear Research Center in an underground facility called Machon 2. [21] It is now understood, but not acknowledged by Israel, that France provided Israel with a reprocessing plant under a secret 1957 nuclear deal. [22] The separation of plutonium reportedly first occurred at Dimona in 1965 or 1966. [23] Israeli nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu discussed Israel's reprocessing operations in his account of the activities at Dimona. Reportedly, the facility consisted of "six underground levels dedicated to separating plutonium from irradiated fuel by the Purex process, converting the plutonium into metal and shaping the metal into weapons components." [24]

Estimates of separated plutonium production vary, but all support the reprocessing of enough plutonium for a nuclear bomb. A 1996 study by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) estimates that Israel "had produced 300-580kg of plutonium though 1995." [25] Another study from the Institute for Science and International Security concluded that through 2003, Israel had "produced 510-650kg of plutonium." [26]

Waste Management

The Negev Nuclear Research Center is responsible for radioactive waste management in Israel. The site accepts waste from "hospitals, research institutions, higher education facilities and factories." [27]

Sources:
[1] "Nuclear Research Center NEGEV (NNRC)," Israel Atomic Energy Commission, www.iaec.gov.il.
[2] Jeffrey T. Richelson, Spying on the Bomb, (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2007), pp. 360-363.
[3] "Data 1. Israel Nuclear Fuel Cycle," in Arms Control Reporter: A Chronicle of Treaties, Negotiations, Proposals, Weapons and Policy, ed. Randall C. Forsberg (Cambridge, MA: Institute for Defense and Disarmament Studies, 2006), p. 297.
[4] Charles Frank Barnaby, Consultant to the Oxford Research Group, "Expert Opinion in the Matter of Mordechai Vanunu," Testimony before the Israel High Court, 14 June 2004, www.fas.org.
[5] "Nuclear Research Center NEGEV (NNRC)," Israel Atomic Energy Commission, www.iaec.gov.il; "Israel: Nuclear Monopoly in Danger," in Nuclear Programmes in the Middle East: In the Shadow of Iran, ed. Mark Fitzpatrick (London: The International Institute for Strategic Studies, 2008), p. 130.
[6] "Data 1. Israel Nuclear Fuel Cycle," in Arms Control Reporter: A Chronicle of Treaties, Negotiations, Proposals, Weapons and Policy, ed. Randall C. Forsberg (Cambridge, MA: Institute for Defense and Disarmament Studies, 2006), p. 296.
[7] Avner Cohen, Israel and the Bomb (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998), pp. 57-68.
[8] "Israel: Nuclear Monopoly in Danger," in Nuclear Programmes in the Middle East: In the Shadow of Iran, ed. Mark Fitzpatrick (London: The International Institute for Strategic Studies, 2008), p. 120.
[9] Tom Zoellner, Uranium: War, Energy and the Rock That Shaped the World (New York: Penguin Books, 2009), p. 106.
[10] Ephraim Kahaha, Historical Dictionary of Israeli Intelligence (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2006), p. 217.
[11] "Nuclear Research Reactors in the World," International Atomic Energy Agency, www.iaea.org/worldatom/rrdb/.
[12] "Israel: Nuclear Monopoly in Danger," in Nuclear Programmes in the Middle East: In the Shadow of Iran, ed. Mark Fitzpatrick (London: The International Institute for Strategic Studies, 2008), p. 121.
[13] Joseph Cirincione, Jon B. Wolfstahl, and Miriam Rajkumar, Deadly Arsenals: Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical Threats (Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2005); Avner Cohen, Israel and the Bomb (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998); "Israel: Plutonium Production," The Risk Report 2 no. 4 (July-August 1996), www.wisconsinproject.org.
[14] Alexander Glaser and Zia Mian, "Fissile Material Stocks and Plutonium Production, 2008," Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 65 vol. 1 (Jan/Feb 2009), p. 42.
[15] Alexander Glaser and Zia Mian, "Fissile Material Stocks and Plutonium Production, 2008," Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 65 vol. 1 (Jan/Feb 2009), p. 42.
[16] Joseph Cirincione, Jon B. Wolfsthal and Miriam Rajkumar, Deadly Arsenals: Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Threats, Second Edition (Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2005), p. 274.
[17] Joseph Cirincione, Jon B. Wolfsthal and Miriam Rajkumar, Deadly Arsenals: Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Threats, Second Edition (Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2005), p. 274.
[18] "Nuclear Fuel Cycle," World Nuclear Association, April 2010, www.world-nuclear.org.
[19] Joseph Cirincione, Jon B. Wolfsthal and Miriam Rajkumar, Deadly Arsenals: Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Threats, Second Edition (Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2005), p. 274; David Albright, Frans Berkhout, and William Walker, Plutonium and Highly Enriched Uranium 1996: World Inventories, Capabilities, and Policies (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), p. 264.
[20] Jeffrey T. Richelson, Spying on the Bomb (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2007), pp. 360-363.
[21] David Albright, Frans Berkhout, and William Walker, Plutonium and Highly Enriched Uranium 1996: World Inventories, Capabilities, and Policies (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997); Joseph Cirincione, Jon B. Wolfsthal and Miriam Rajkumar, Deadly Arsenals: Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Threats, Second Edition (Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2005); Avner Cohen, Israel and the Bomb (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998).
[22] Avner Cohen, Israel and the Bomb (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998), p. 187.
[23] "Data 1. Israel Nuclear Fuel Cycle," in Arms Control Reporter: A Chronicle of Treaties, Negotiations, Proposals, Weapons and Policy, ed. Randall C. Forsberg (Cambridge, MA: Institute for Defense and Disarmament Studies, 2006), p. 297; Hans M. Kristensen and Joshua Handler, "Appendix 10A: World Nuclear Forces," in SIPRI Yearbook 2002: Armaments, Disarmament, and International Security, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), p. 565.
[24] David Albright, Frans Berkhout, and William Walker, Plutonium and Highly Enriched Uranium 1996: World Inventories, Capabilities, and Policies (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), p. 260.
[25] "Data 1. Israel Nuclear Fuel Cycle," in Arms Control Reporter: A Chronicle of Treaties, Negotiations, Proposals, Weapons and Policy, ed. Randall C. Forsberg (Cambridge, MA: Institute for Defense and Disarmament Studies, 2006), p. 297.
[26] "Data 1. Israel Nuclear Fuel Cycle," in Arms Control Reporter: A Chronicle of Treaties, Negotiations, Proposals, Weapons and Policy, ed. Randall C. Forsberg (Cambridge, MA: Institute for Defense and Disarmament Studies, 2006), p. 297.
[27] "Nuclear Research Center NEGEV (NRCN)," Israel Atomic Energy Commission, Accessed 15 December 2010, www.iaec.gov.il.

CNS logo

This material is produced independently for NTI by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of and has not been independently verified by NTI or its directors, officers, employees, or agents.

Country Profile

Flag of Israel

Israel

This article provides an overview of Israel's historical and current policies relating to nuclear, chemical, biological and missile proliferation.

Learn More →