Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Dimona was one among several "development towns" that were created in the 1950s at the initiative of David Ben-Gurion. Dimona itself was conceived in 1953, and settled in 1955, mostly by new immigrants from Northern Africa, who also constructed the city's houses. When the Israeli nuclear program started later that decade, a location not so far from the city was chosen due to its relative isolation in the desert and availability of housing.
In spite of a gradual decrease during the 1980s, the city's population began to grow once again with the beginning of the Russian immigration in the 1990s. Currently, Dimona is the third largest city in the Negev, with the population of 31,200 (1995 estimate). About a third of the city's population works in industrial workplaces (chemical plants at the Dead Sea, high-tech companies and textile shops), and another third in the area of services. Due to the introduction of new technologies, many workmen have found themselves fired in the recent years, creating a total unemployment rate of about 10%.
Dimona is the center of the Black Hebrews, a small religious community that lives according to their own special rules.
See also Dimona information (in Hebrew)
Dimona Nuclear Reactor
An Israeli nuclear installation is located about ten kilometers to the south of Dimona, the Negev Nuclear Research Center. Its construction commmenced in 1958, with French assistance. The official reason given by the Israeli and French governments was to build a nuclear reactor to power a "desalination plant", in order to "green the Negev". The purpose of Dimona is widely assumed to be the manufacturing of nuclear weapons, and the majority of defence experts have concluded that it does in fact do that. However, the Israeli government refuses to confirm or deny this publicly, a policy it refers to as "ambiguity".
The Dimona reactor went on-line some time between 1962 and 1964, and with the plutonium produced there, perhaps together with some enriched uranium acquired through mysterious means (see Plumbat Operation), the Israel Defence Forces most probably had their first nuclear weapons ready before the Six-Day War. Although the Israeli government has always claimed it has been used for peaceful purposes, the United States overflew the site with U-2 aircraft to sample the air for radioactive by-products.
When the United States intelligence community discovered the purpose of Dimona in the early 1960s, it demanded that Israel agree to international inspections. Israel agreed, but on a condition that US, rather than IAEA, inspectors were used, and that Israel would receive advance notice of all inspections.
Some claim that because Israel knew the schedule of the inspectors' visits, it was able to hide the alleged purpose of the site (manufacturing of nuclear weapons) from the inspectors, by installing temporary false walls and other devices before each inspection. The inspectors eventually informed the U.S. government that their inspections were useless, due to Israeli restrictions on what areas of the facility they could inspect. In 1969, the United States terminated the inspections.
In 1986, Mordechai Vanunu, a former technican at Dimona, revealed to the media some evidence of Israel's nuclear program. Israeli agents kidnapped him from Italy, drugged him and transported him to Israel, and an Israeli court then tried him in secret on charges of treason and espionage, and sentenced him to eighteen years imprisonment. At the time of Vanunu's arrest, The Times reported that Israel had material for approximately 20 hydrogen bombs and 200 fission bombs. Israel acquired submarine-launched nuclear missiles by late 2003.
Dimona's reactor was defended by batteries of Patriot missiles in anticipation of strikes from Iraq in 2002–3.
References and further reading
- Avner Cohen, Israel and the Bomb, University Press of Columbia (1999), ISBN 0231104839
- FAS's page about the Israeli nuclear program
- Independent Thinktank Analysis of Israeli Nuclear Doctrine
- History of Israeli Nuclear Program
- Seymour M. Hersh, The Samson Option: Israel's Nuclear Arsenal and American Foreign Policy, Random House (1991), hardcover, 354 pages, ISBN 0394570065
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