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INTERVIEW - Israel studying options for nuclear power plant

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel has launched a year-long feasibility study for constructing a nuclear power plant to lessen its dependence on fossil fuels, the chairman of Israel’s infrastructure ministry said on Wednesday.

In an interview with Reuters, Shaul Tzemach said the study would help determine the best way to reach the target date of 2025 to christen the country’s first nuclear power plant, as announced this month at an energy conference in Paris.

“It’s laying the groundwork so we know what the working plan should be to reach the target date,” Tzemach said.

Israel already has two reactors -- the secretive Dimona facility in the Negev desert, where it is widely assumed to have produced nuclear weapons, and a research reactor, open to international inspection, at Nahal Soreq near Tel Aviv.

Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau has said Israel, which has a population of 7.5 million and generates electricity mostly using imported coal and local and imported natural gas, is capable of building a nuclear reactor on its own, but would prefer to work with other countries.

Israel has a delegation at the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna. Landau said the country would be able to build a civilian reactor without supervision by the U.N. watchdog, or signing on to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).


Israel maintains a policy of nuclear ambiguity, neither confirming nor denying that it possesses atomic weapons. Signing the NPT would oblige it to submit to regular international inspections and distinguish between civilian and military sites.

Asked how Israel hoped to build a nuclear reactor without signing the NPT, Tzemach said the government was studying a number of possibilities. One option would be to cooperate with a country, like France, that is a signatory to the treaty, but he would not provide further details.

In the 1950s, France helped Israel build the Dimona reactor, a project spearheaded by current Israeli President Shimon Peres.

The planned nuclear power plant, which Tzemach said could generate somewhere between 1,000-1,500 Megawatts of electricity, will be built in an area of the Negev Desert called Shivta.

Tzemach said Israel hopes to use a so-called “fourth generation” nuclear energy system in its reactor, a technology still being developed, which experts say will be viable by about 2030.

The U.S. Department of Energy says fourth generation reactors will use advanced fuels and operate at higher temperatures. They will be safer, cheaper, more efficient and have lower proliferation risk.

Israel will begin training personnel to help develop and run the reactor technology, though depending on the pace of research and developemnt, the plant may start out with available, third generation system.

“But in order to do all this, the entire market place needs to take steps. It requires places to train. In universities, laboratories. They need to work and do research,” he said. “It’s a whole building process. It’s the building of capability.”

Editing by Douglas Hamilton and James Jukwey