Misa' al-nuwr gamiy`an, 

We have a popular saying in Egypt: While, nobody actually saw God, we commonly internalize God's existence through logic.  This brings me to the following dilemma, which has been on my mind for quite sometime. 


Before starting mass production for any product, a test of its reliability level is required.  For example, no customer could be expected to buy a specific model of a car before all the parts of its prototype had thoroughly undergone rigorous testing.   In short, without these comprehensive and meticulous reviews and experimentations, the car could not expect to be accepted by prospective buyers.  This leads me to the following problem outlined below: 

We are all familiar with Israel's covertly hinting of its prolific nuclear arsenal, while at the same time refraining from officially admitting to the possession of formidable nuclear deterrence (estimated by some as 200 + warheads). Their reasoning for non-admittance being that they cannot accept the limits of the NPT (Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty) as long as the threat to their survival continues. 

However, unlike other nuclear powers such as the USA, Russia, Great Britain, France, China, India, Pakistan and as of yesterday North Korea, no nuclear tests were ever conducted by Israel.  This leads me to wonder how on earth Israel could have produced such a prolific arsenal without the recourse of the testing of any of its warheads?  Was this arsenal simply bestowed upon them by another superpower?  Or, on the other hand, is it simply a classic ploy of pretending to have these super weapons in order to ward off enemies with the threat of using them?  Could it simply be that we are dealing with yet another "Wizard of OZ" scenario? 

Do any of our informant readers have any opinions on this subject?   I would truly love to hear your ideas. 

Akhuwkum Ishinan 


Dear Ishinan, 

I am also skeptical about the Israeli claim. The reactor they got from the French back in 1950s is quite a small one. To use this reactor for Plutonium production takes a very long time. In addition separating Plutonium from the spent fuel is a very complex process. Very long buildings that can be recognized by aerial survey characterize the facilities that can be used to separate Plutonium. Putting it underground requires extensive digging and activities that are hard to conceal in a small country like Israel. Assuming they have a Plutonium separation facility, I cannot see how can they produce 200 warheads using that small reactor in Dimona (1)

This reactor's power is 40 Mega Watts. From this one can calculate the amount of Plutonium it produces, which I find it to be about 3.5 kg/ year. Assuming again that their Plutonium extraction facility is 100% efficient and assuming continuous operations for 30 years that gives them 105 kg of weapons grade Plutonium. This is the absolute maximum. In real life, as all scientists and engineers know very well, there are losses, less than 100% efficiencies, equipment failure, maintenance time, etc. 105 kg of Plutonium are hardly enough for 10-15 Hiroshima type bombs. 

Moreover, if this reactor is a light water reactor, which I assume it is; then it requires the Uranium fuel to be enriched to a minimum of 20% of the fissionable U-235 instead of the natural 0.7%. This also means that they have Uranium enrichment facility as well. This is a back of the envelope kind of calculations, which could be an underestimation. 

Uranium enrichment to 20% or more is also a very complex process. The Centrifuge method has become a viable option relatively recently. In 1950s and 1960s the common method was thermal diffusion where the Uranium Hexafluoride gas is passed through hundreds of thousands of porous barriers. Again concealing such facilities is difficult in Israel and it requires huge amount of electricity. 

The other reactor Israel has is a light water 5 MW American research reactor similar to the Russian reactor Egypt obtained in the 1960s. This certainly is not the type of reactor that can produce any sizable amount of Plutonium. 

Assuming these calculations grossly underestimate the Plutonium production and that Israel actually has 100-200 warheads, then we come to the testing issue you raised. The possibilities are: 

1. Israel is relying on computer simulations, which has improved in the 1980s and 1990s. However, simulation software needs to be verified by experimental data. Nuclear power states had enough data form their own tests to verify and perfect their software. For Israel to rely on simulation software means they obtained it from one of nuclear-power states. 

2. They have done tests somewhere else in another country that covered it up for them. 

I am not sure if Israel can get ready-made bombs from another country. Remember, US refused to give nuclear weapons to France and the Russians refused to give them to China, which led both countries to develop their own. The British develop their own nuclear weapons and did not even try to get them from the US. If you give nuclear weapons to another country, there is no guarantee that it will not be used against you. 

From an Arab point of view, it is probably safe to assume that the Israeli claim is valid and perhaps try to develop their own nuclear weapons. While developing nuclear weapons is a sure way to bolster the county's industrial and research infrastructure, however, I must add using nuclear weapons against Israel will have devastating effect on the Palestinian population and probably all neighboring countries as well. I am not sure what is the best strategy that can be used to neutralize Israel's presumed nuclear weapons. May be we should have a discussion on this issue.

Ahmed Hussein 

© Ahmed Hussein 2006

(1) Dimona is an Israeli city in the Naqab (Negev) desert, 36 kilometers to the south of Biyr-Sab` ( shiva) and 35 kilometers west of the Dead Sea. Dimona was one among several "development towns" that were created in the 1950s at the initiative of David Ben-Gurion. When the Israeli nuclear program started later that decade, a location not so far from the city was chosen for the " Negev NuclearResearch Center".




The Egyptian Chronicles is a cooperative effort by a group of Egyptian authors pooling together their talents for the sake of Egypt's Future.  Articles contained in these pages are the personal views and/or work of the authors, who bear the sole responsibility of the content of their work. This Monthly Electronic Magazine is a non-profit, commercial free zone and is answerable to no one.

 The October 2006 ISSUE