Op-Ed: A nuclear power plant in Israel would be disastrous

Karl Grossman believes building a nuclear power plant in Israel would be a big mistake. ()

Karl Grossman believes building a nuclear power plant in Israel would be a big mistake. ()

OLD WESTBURY, New York (JTA) — The recently announced proposal by Israel’s minister of national infrastructure, Uzi Landau, that Israel build a nuclear power plant makes absolutely no sense economically, militarily or environmentally. It’s also bad for the health of the Israeli people.

Economically, the cost of a nuclear power plant is between $12 billion and $15 billion per plant.

Because private money does not go into nuclear plants, according to Michael Mariotte, executive director of the Nuclear Information & Resource Service, huge government funds would be required. In the United States, President Obama recently proposed a $54.5 billion loan guarantee fund to build new nuclear plants stateside.

With the Israel Defense Forces’ total budget at approximately $13.3 billion, building a nuclear plant simply would be unaffordable.

“Nuclear is uneconomic,” says Amory Lovins, a physicist and chairman of the Rocky Mountain Institute, a group of industry experts promoting renewable energy. “It costs, for example, about three times as much as wind power, which is booming.”

Solar power, at which Israel excels, would be far more cost-effective than nuclear power. Some 80 percent of homes in Israel are equipped with solar thermal panels to heat water.

Nowadays there are new technologies at use in Israel to use the sun to produce electricity through solar photovoltaic panels. Last year, ZenithSolar, an Israel start-up company, put into operation a solar farm at a kibbutz that converts 70 percent of incoming solar energy to electricity. Industry norms are 10 to 25 percent. At its opening, Israeli President Shimon Peres declared, “Israel has the capability to become the leading country in the promotion of alternative energy technologies. We have the brain power and the ability to do this.”

Israel should do this rather than waste its resources on the dead end of nuclear power.

Militarily, Israel’s construction of a nuclear power plant would create a sitting duck for its many enemies. A country or terrorist organization hostile to Israel need not put together an atomic bomb to bring nuclear devastation to Israel; it need only use a heavy weapon or aircraft to pierce the concrete containment of the proposed plant to cause a core meltdown or nuclear catastrophe.

This is no secret. Nuclear power plants are “pre-deployed weapons of mass destruction,” says Paul Gunter, reactor specialist with an anti-nuclear power group called Beyond Nuclear. There have been numerous reports of Al-Qaeda considering and training to attack a U.S. nuclear plant. In the danger-fraught Middle East, a nuclear weapon would not be needed to wreak atomic havoc on Israel if Israel builds a nuclear plant.

Israel already has a nuclear facility, at Dimona — long said to be the source of fuel for Israeli nuclear weapons — and Iran has talked about hitting Dimona. But Dimona is small compared to a modern nuclear power plant, which would hold inside it 1,000 times the radioactivity of an atomic bomb.

From an environmental point of view, nuclear power is senseless. The nuclear industry is seeking to revive nuclear power with the argument that nuclear plants don’t emit greenhouse gases. What they don’t tell you is that the overall nuclear chain needed to produce nuclear power — including uranium mining and milling, conversion, enrichment, fuel fabrication, the disposal of radioactive waste and so on – produces significant greenhouse gas emissions.

Furthermore, where would Israel get the water necessary to cool a nuclear plant? Minister Landau spoke of the plant being located in the northern Negev desert. A nuclear power plant needs hundreds of thousands of gallons of water per minute as coolant to keep the atomic reaction in check. That amount of water is not available in the northern Negev desert. Indeed, it’s barely available anywhere in parched Israel.

When it comes to nuclear waste, the hotly radioactive poisons produced constantly in a nuclear plant, Israel would have to find a way to isolate it for up to millions of years. Is Israel to become the land of radioactive waste rather than the land of milk and honey?

Finally, a nuclear accident is not the only threat to public health. Nuclear power plants all have “routine emissions” of radioactivity — which has consequences for people who live miles away. The Radiation and Public Health Project long has documented how these emissions cause elevated rates of cancer.

And God forbid if there should be a major accident that allows the poisons in a nuclear plant to escape. These dangers are outlined in a recently published book called “Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment.” The book finds that the 1986 accident at Chernobyl has caused 985,000 cancer deaths so far. A Chernobyl-scale accident in Israel would be devastating to Israel and leave a large portion of the country uninhabitable for millennia.

Rather than pose a deadly and unnecessary threat to Israeli life with a nuclear power, Israel instead should be a light to the nations in the use of safe, clean, renewable energy technologies.

(Karl Grossman is a professor of journalism at the SUNY College at Old Westbury and is the author of "Cover Up: What You Are Not Supposed to Know About Nuclear Power.")

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