Plutonium and Tritium Production in Israel's Dimona Reactor, 1964-2020

Alexander Glaser, Julien De Troullioud De Lanversin, "Plutonium and Tritium Production in Israel's Dimona Reactor, 1964-2020," Science & Global Security 29, no. 2 (2021): 26-43

Since the early 1960s, Israel has used the Dimona reactor in the Negev Desert for unsafeguarded plutonium production. Estimates of cumulative plutonium production have been very uncertain, however, because the power level of the reactor is unknown, and there is a lack of detail about the reactor design. This analysis presents new estimates of historic plutonium production in Israel based on neutronics calculations for the Dimona reactor. As of December 2020, we estimate that the cumulative production of plutonium is 830 ± 100 kg. Israel continues to operate the Dimona reactor today, possibly to offset the decay of its stock of tritium. For these reasons, the production of tritium and the possible production of enriched uranium are also briefly discussed. Calculations suggest that the reactor could make on the order of 50-60 grams of tritium and support an arsenal of about one hundred advanced nuclear weapons. The paper also includes a critical review of the 1986 testimony by the Dimona technician and whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu, which provided much of the basis for public discussion of the reactor?s power and operation.

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