Dimona -Reactor Detail
The Dimona nuclear reactor, in operation since early 1965, is the source of plutonium for Israeli nuclear weapons. The number of nuclear weapons that could have been produced by Israel can be estimated on the basis of the power level of this reactor. Information made public in 1986 by Mordechai Vanunu, Frank Barnaby and other analysts suggested that the reactor might have a power level of at least 150 megawatts, about twice the power level at which is was believed to be operating around 1970. To accomodate this higher power level, analysts had suggested that Israel had constructed an enlarged cooling system.
An alternative interpretation of the information supplied by Vanunu was that the reactor's power level had remained at about 70 megawatts,as French sources had maintain (e.g. Pierre Pean), and that the production rate of plutonium in the early 1980s reflected a backlog of previously generated material.
The cooling towers associated with the Dimona reactor are clearly visible and identifiable in satellite imagery. Comparison of IKONOS imagery acquired in July 2000 with declassified American CORONA reconnaissance satellite imagery taken in the 1960's indicates that no new cooling towers were constructed in the years between 1971 and 2000. This strongly suggests that the reactor's power level has not been increased significantly during this period. Based on plausible upper and lower bounds of the operating practices at the reactor, Israel could have thus produced enough plutonium for at least 100 nuclear weapons, but probably not significantly more than 200 weapons.
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