Energy experts dispute developing nuclear energy in Israel

Expert: Coal plants could be just as dangerous as nuclear facilities.

November 8, 2011 05:07
3 minute read.
Dr. Gelberg

Dr. Gelberg. (photo credit: Dor Greenblatt/SPNI)

While many energy experts and environmental advocates warned that the use of nuclear energy in Israel could prove disastrous, others advocated its implementation as a tool for producing clean electricity and securing energy independence during a forum held in Jerusalem on Monday.

The group of experts spoke on a panel called “Nuclear Energy in Israel – Chance or Risk?” at the Society for the Protection of Nature’s Jerusalem Environment and Nature Conference at the International Convention Center in Binyanei Hauma.

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To many, the potential dangers that a nuclear plant may pose in the face of disaster – as seen in Japan – outweighed the potential advantages that might accompany such a facility. But others saw nuclear energy as a much cleaner alternative to coal, and a necessary supplement to natural gas and renewables.

“There would’ve been exposure to the same disaster even if it was a regular coal-based plant,” said Dr. Stilian Gelberg, of the Environmental Protection Ministry’s radiation department, about the Japanese crisis.

Gelberg, who acknowledged that most of the public opposes the use of nuclear energy, reminded the audience that an average Israeli families uses about 600 kilograms of coal monthly for electricity, an energy source that causes much more pollution than nuclear energy.

While it’s preferable to be safe than sorry by building certain a certain type of small underground reactor that is closed and requires no maintenance, the government can ensure such safety, according to Gelberg, who emphasized that Israel’s neighbors will build reactors regardless of whether it decides to do the same.

At the same time, using varied energy sources is crucial, Gelberg stressed.

Dr. Amit Mor, CEO and energy specialist at the Eco Energy, agreed, noting that “coal is fading out” and most of Israel’s power plants are moving to natural gas.

But even a combination of Israel’s natural gas and renewable sources will probably not be sufficient eventually, according to Mor.

“We must consider the technologies and not just cancel them out of hysteria and remember that gas is also polluting,” he said. “It has strategic problems in the future – you have to take everything into consideration.”

“In the long run, natural and renewable energy, especially solar – while coal is fading out – will not be sufficient to lower Israel’s carbon dioxide and greenhouse- gas emissions,” Mor told The Jerusalem Post following the meeting. “Also, due to land constraints, the nuclear-energy option should be considered and the government should check the option of preparing the base for constructing such a plant during the 2030s.”

But others did not share this opinion.

“The problem is the nuclear waste, the uranium pools – it takes a decade to cool them down,” said Dr.

Shahar Dolev, of the Israel Energy Forum, who meanwhile did acknowledge how clean nuclear energy can be.

Ultimately, nuclear reactors will not provide the energy of the future, and within the next few years more will stop working than will be built – while it might take hundreds of thousands of years to eliminate the waste produced as a result, according to Dolev.

“We don’t want to leave our future generations these explosive gifts,” he said, noting that building the reactors is also getting more and more expensive.

“The materials will stay with us,” added Prof. Uri Marinov, of the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya “The only thing we need is renewable energy.”

Japan’s encounter with disaster, argued Dr. Nissim Otmazgin of Hebrew University, has brought the East Asian country to veer away from nuclear development, something he thinks can be seen in a positive light, and perhaps a “model” for Israel.

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