Scientists have uncovered 1,537 defects at the aluminum core in Israel’s Dimona nuclear reactor in the Negev desert.
The findings of the study, which used ultrasound testing, was released at a scientific forum held in Tel Aviv this month.
Growing fears over the safety of Israel’s aging atomic research center have provoked fresh questions over its future and a dilemma over the secrecy of the country’s alleged nuclear arsenal.
According to the report, there are growing calls for new safeguards and even a new research center – which could present Israel with a decision on whether to acknowledge for the first time that it has nuclear weapons.
The US-based Institute for Science and International Security estimated in 2015 that Israel had 115 nuclear warheads.
Israel has strongly opposed other regional powers, most notably Iran, obtaining nuclear technology which the country says it wants to generate electricity.
In the 1980s nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu, a former technician at Dimona, told a British newspaper that the center was used to create nuclear weapons. He was later jailed for 18 years for the revelations.
The core of the Dimona reactor was provided by France in the late 1950s and went online a few years later. Common practice is that such reactors are used for only 40 years.
Uzi Even, a chemistry professor at Tel Aviv University who was involved in the creation of the reactor, is concerned about the safety of the site and has campaigned for a decade for it to be closed – “so far, to no avail.”
He called for it to be shut off for security reasons. “This reactor is now one of the oldest still operating globally,” the AFP news agency quoted him as saying.
Michal Rozin, a lawmaker with the leftwing Meretz party, has called for a radical shake-up in policy in light of the safety worries.
“The nuclear reactor has no supervision besides the body that runs it, the Israel Atomic Energy Commission,” she wrote in a letter, seen by AFP. “We don’t need to wait for a disaster to make a change.”
While Israel is widely believed to have nuclear weapons, officials do not formally confirm or deny the claims – a policy often dubbed deliberate ambiguity.
Israel has yet to sign the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty – which would require its sites to undergo regular inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency.