By Jacob Mazer, Assistant Editor, Fuel Cycle Week
Israel is seeking American support for plans to build a civilian nuclear plant without signing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's government hopes to follow the "Indian model," allowing the international community to monitor its civilian nuclear facilities without revealing the details of its other nuclear capabilities.
The request comes six months after a report commissioned by the Infrastructure Ministry suggested a nuclear plant would be the best option to meet Israel's expanding energy needs.
Israel occupies a unique position that sets it apart from the various other Middle Eastern nations pursuing nuclear energy programs. The nation's plans to develop a civilian reactor in the southern Negev region fizzled out in the 1960's. However, the Negev hosts the mysterious Dimona facility, widely believed to be a production site for nuclear warheads. Israel maintains a policy of nuclear ambiguity, refusing to confirm or deny its nuclear weapons capabilities or arsenal. The general consensus among the international community holds that Israel does in fact have nuclear weapons, a theory supported by its continuing refusal to sign the NPT.
As with India, the United States possesses the critical sway needed to secure an NPT waiver. But nuclear transparency is a big issue in the United States these days. Israel's request is complicated by America's ongoing faceoff with Iran, whose ostensible pursuit of a civilian nuclear program is feared to hide a weapons agenda. Furthermore, the Obama government is showing signs of a departure from the unwavering support for Israel's ambiguity policy upheld by previous administrations, illustrated by Assistant U.S. Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller call for Israel to sign the NPT during an international conference in May.
The U.S. has not yet responded to the Israeli request.
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