The nuclear disaster in Japan caused Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to
declare last week that Israel will not build nuclear power plants.
don’t think we are going to pursue civil nuclear energy in coming years,” said
Netanyahu, asked by Piers Morgan on CNN whether the situation in Japan will
affect plans to construct nuclear plants.
“The cloud of radioactivity,
the uncertainty of what will happen with it, is the cloud that hangs over the
people of Japan, and I think right now hangs over the world,” he
Also, there was the recent discovery of natural gas in the
Mediterranean, he noted. “I think we’ll go for the gas and skip the
It’s wonderful that Netanyahu is saying no to nuclear power.
However, Israel could yet become “a light unto the nations” by implementing
never-ending, carbon-free and completely safe energy: solar and wind energy –
the vision of David Ben-Gurion.
Israel is already at the cutting edge of
Some 80 percent of homes have solar panels that heat water.
It is “the first” in the world with solar power, says Shoshana Dann, an
associate at the Ben-Gurion National Solar Energy Center at Ben-Gurion
University of the Negev.
That’s where extraordinary work is going on near
the graves of David and Paula Ben-Gurion and a few miles from their humble home
at Kibbutz Sde Boker, where hangs a 1955 statement of Ben-Gurion: “In the Negev
the creative ingenuity and pioneering vitality of Israel will be tested.
Scientists must develop...
applied solar energy [and] wind-power for
Dr. David Faiman is director of the center where this
dream is being realized. His main project is using sunlight to produce
electricity. There’s a huge parabolic plate that focuses 1,000 times more
sunlight on a photovoltaic panel than what usually powers a panel.
provides enormous efficiency in harvesting solar energy. Faiman’s rotating solar
collector converts more than 70% of incoming solar energy into electricity,
compared to industry norms of 10-25%. The center is collaborating with the
Israeli company ZenithSolar in marketing solar collectors based on Faiman’s
Faiman, who made aliya from the UK in 1973, says the way is now
clear to manufacture solar energy systems that will compete with conventional
His work in using concentrated sunlight more efficiently
constitutes a great boost to solar photovoltaic power.
researchers and scientists claim no prophetic abilities, they do claim a
passionate commitment, working ‘religiously’ to develop solar energy for our
That solar and wind energy are keys in providing all the
energy the world needs is a theme of a recent book, World on the Edge: How to
Prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse by Lester Brown, president of the
Washington-based Earth Policy Institute. Brown dismisses nuclear power as too
expensive and dangerous.
Netanyahu commented last week on Piers Morgan
Tonight that “the situation in Japan is a confluence of a natural disaster and
man-made disaster” and it has “certainly caused me to reconsider the prospects
of building civil nuclear power plants.”
It was only last year, on March
9 that National Infrastructures Minister Uzi Landau announced that a nuclear
power plant would be built in the Negev.
“Building a nuclear reactor to
produce electricity will allow Israel to develop energy independence,” he
I wrote pieces criticizing the move that stated this made no sense
economically, militarily, environmentally, or for the health of the people of
Economically, I noted, the cost of building one nuclear power
plant is now between $12 and $15 billion.
As a result, huge government
subsidies are required. In comparison, the total budget for the IDF in recent
times is about $13 billion.
Militarily, a nuclear power plant is a
sitting duck for Israel’s enemies. A hostile country – or terrorist organization
– need not put together an atomic bomb to bring nuclear destruction. It need
only use an aircraft to pierce the concrete containment of any nuclear plant and
cause a core meltdown. I quoted Paul Gunter, reactor specialist with the
organization Beyond Nuclear (www.beyondnuclar.org), as stating that nuclear
power plants are “pre-deployed weapons of mass destruction” and pointed to
numerous reports that for some time al-Qaida has been considering and training
for an attack on a nuclear plant.
As for environmental issues, although
the nuclear industry says nuclear plants don’t emit greenhouse gases, what it
doesn’t say is that the overall nuclear “cycle” – which includes uranium mining
and milling, conversion, enrichment, fuel fabrication and so on – creates
significant greenhouse gas emissions.
Moreover, I questioned where Israel
would get the water to cool a nuclear plant, which requires a million gallons a
minute as coolant. If that flow stops, a meltdown can ensue as has been
occurring in Japan.
As for nuclear waste, the poisons produced constantly
in a nuclear plant need to be isolated from life for up to millions of
And as for a major accident, I noted a book then just-published by
the New York Academy of Sciences, Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for
People and the Environment. Written by scientists who used health data from 1986
to 2004, it found that 985,000 people died worldwide as a result of the
Chernobyl disaster. Most were in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. A Chernobyl-scale
accident in Israel could be devastating to much of the tiny nation and leave a
good portion uninhabitable for millennia.
AFTER MY pieces ran, I received
calls from the National Infrastructures Ministry in Jerusalem seeking additional
information. What I wrote and what I sent wasn’t the reason for Netanyahu’s
decision to forget about plans for nuclear power. The cause was the catastrophe
in Japan. Throughout human history, it’s a disaster that has caused people to
change their ways.
The year before, ZenithSolar opened its first “solar
farm” based on the concentrated photovoltaic system developed by Faiman.
President Shimon Peres, in cutting the ceremonial ribbon at Kibbutz Kvutzat
Yavne, where the farm is located, said: “Israel has the capability to become the
leading country in the promotion of alternative energy.”
pointed the way. Now Israel can lead the world in providing a safe and clean
future, if it wills it.The writer is professor of journalism at the
State University of New York/College at Old Westbury, the author of
What You Are Not Supposed to Know About Nuclear Power and many TV programs on
the issue (www.envirovideo.com). He has given presentations around the world
about the dangers of nuclear technology.