Civilian nuclear power is neither the ultimate answer to the country’s energy
needs nor a disaster, Dr. Ephraim Asculai, a veteran expert on nuclear energy,
said on Wednesday at a conference held at Tel Aviv University’s Faculty of
Social Science titled “Solution or Pollution? Civil Nuclear Reactors For
“Globally, I would say that the greenhouse gases is probably in
the long run much more disastrous than any nuclear disaster you can think of,”
Asculai told The Jerusalem Post following the one-day event.
conference was held jointly by the Israel branch of the Heinrich Boell Stiftung
– a foundation affiliated with the German Green Party – and Tel Aviv
University’s Harold Hartog School of Government and Policy. Representatives from
both Israeli and German green societies, universities and government spoke
throughout the day, commenting on safety issues and necessary policy surrounding
the use of civilian nuclear energy. During the day, the Heinrich Boell Stiftung
also launched the Hebrew version of the book Myths of Nuclear Energy, written by
Dr. Gerd Rosenkranz of German Environmental Aid Berlin.
Asculai, a senior
research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies who served for 40
years at the Israel Atomic Energy Commission, held what he called a “middle
ground” position at the conference – the midpoint between “the technical people”
who were predominantly “on the side of nuclear energy in the future” and the
“Greenpeace people” whose emotions he said made them vehemently against using
One of the “Greenpeace people,” Sharon Dolev of the
Movement of a Nuclear Free Middle East, said that one of the most problematic
issues with Israel’s current usage of nuclear reactors was the “ambiguity”
associated with the use.
“We don’t ask for neutral radiation checks that
are being conducted by the same people who operate the reactor,” Dolev said. “It
comes to a point where there is no discourse.
“By allowing the nuclear
energy to be so secretive in Israel and stopping any discourse, we are exposing
the citizens of the state to danger,” she said.
The present and future
use of nuclear energy was by no means clear-cut, the speakers
“Originally, nuclear power was an anathema,” said
Alon Tal, on behalf of Israel’s Green Movement. He is also a
faculty member at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev’s Jacob Blaustein
Institutes for Desert Research. “There was Three Mile Island [in 1979] and
Chernobyl [in 1986] and it just seemed like a bad idea. Then with the rise of
global warming, there was all of a sudden an opening to this, and environmental
icons said that maybe they made a mistake. So this sent us back to the
“Right now the Green Movement does not believe that nuclear
energy offers a plausible and environmentally friendly alternative,” Tal
continued, pointing to the 24,000- year half-life of plutonium as a big issue.
“We really have to think if we want to saddle future generations with this kind
Advocating using a mixture of energy sources, Asculai said
that no matter which types of power a country chooses to use, a combination of
sources would ensure that supply is greater than demand, in the cleanest way
possible. In Sweden, for example, the government employs a mixture of nuclear
and hydroelectric sources, he explained.
“In Israel you don’t have much
of the alternative sources,” Asculai told the Post.
“Israel has some
constraints when you come to speak about nuclear energy. The first one is
For a nuclear station to be economical, he explained, it has
to be as big as possible – capable of generating 1,300 megawatts of power.
However, 1,300 megawatts would equal more than 10 percent of the national
demand, and “there is a rule that you can’t have one station supplying more than
10% of the demand,” Asculai said.
He posed the idea of perhaps using
smaller modular reactors that are currently being created, but emphasized that
this was certainly not a feasible solution today.
Dolev said that nuclear
power plants cannot be economical, because “by the time we will finish building
440 new reactors, all of the 442 existing reactors [globally] will have to shut
“You put so much money into building the reactors, generate so much
pollution from mining uranium – the nuclear cycle is a very polluting cycle,”
she said. “We don’t invest even a fraction of a percent on renewables that we do
Another problem in using nuclear energy for civilian power
purposes, Asculai said, is that “at the moment no one is willing to sell to us”
because Israel has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
civilian nuclear energy might not be the most practical electricity source for
Israel at the moment, Asculai said that it may be far less dangerous than most
other energy generation methods.
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