JERUSALEM (Dec. 15)
Talks on means of building a proposed $200 million atomic reactor to produce electricity for desalinating seawater will begin here Saturday evening between Ambassador Ellsworth Bunker, President Johnson’s personal advisor on the project, and his opposite Israeli number, Brig. Efraim Benartzi. Premier Levi Eshkol is expected to take an active part in the talks.
United States assistance in building the experimental nuclear plant was proposed by President Johnson two years ago but implementation has lagged for a variety of reasons. Israel accepted the plan in principle but has hesitated over the interest costs of United States aid. Israeli officials want credit terms low enough to make the desalting of water inexpensive enough for profitable use in farm irrigation. Sources here said this meant a credit cost of about two percent.
Israel will need water from such a plant in about six or seven years, giving that much time for the possibility of development of other resources. One such possibility was considered to be large scale experiments in desalting now underway in California which holds promise. Some experts here were reported as believing that the whole idea may be solved in much less expensive ways and this was reported to be a factor in Israel’s hesitation in proceeding with the joint United States-Israel project.