NGO asks High Court to unlock some of nuclear agency's secrecy

"IAEC’s operations must be anchored in law," they say.

Dimona nuclear reactor (photo credit: REUTERS)
Dimona nuclear reactor
(photo credit: REUTERS)
As scrutiny heightens regarding the nuclear reactor in Dimona, an NGO and 100 citizens on Wednesday petitioned the High Court of Justice to compel the secretive Israel Atomic Energy Commission to become more transparent through broad Knesset legislation.
The Israeli Disarmament Movement wrote in the petition, “The most hazardous industrial complex in the country operates in secrecy, without public control, oversight, or even under the law.
The present situation is dangerous.”
Allowing the IAEC to go unregulated indefinitely violates the legal requirement of reasonableness and the underpinnings of democracy, the petition argues.
Although the petitioners, including top expert on Israel's nuclear program, Avner Cohen, say they have worked on it for around a year, the petition comes only weeks after the world was taken by storm with reports that the reactor southeast of Dimona has 1,537 cracks.
That news renewed a 2004 debate about the reactor being beyond the 40-year point of being safe to use, a line passed in 2003.
Petitioners say the solution to the lack of transparency is to anchor the IAEC’s operations in primary legislation that will regulate its roles, authority, form of organization and management, and to require monitoring of its activities and facilities.
Noting that the IAEC was created in 1952, the petitioners contend that its roles and methods of monitoring its activities have never been set down in law, a status quo that cannot continue.
The petition recalls that the entirety of the agency’s functions are governed merely by a secret administrative order, issued by then-prime minister David Ben-Gurion, and a later series of secret government rulings.
Trying to build its case, the NGO points out that the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), though secretive and at the heart of the nation’s security, has been regulated by a broad Knesset law at least since the passage of the General Security Services Law in 2002.
“The ambiguity typifying the work of the Israel Atomic Energy Commission has become dangerous in itself for Israeli citizens,” said Sharon Dolev, director of the Israeli Disarmament Movement.
She added, “While vagueness regarding the existence of nuclear arms in Israel has always been the policy of Israel’s governments, its broadening into aspects pertaining to citizens’ health and security, the dangers deriving from the condition of the aging reactor, and long-term environmental hazards, is totally unjustified.”
In other words, although some supporters of the NGO are also proponents of ending Israeli ambiguity regarding whether it wields nuclear weapons, the petition does not seek that. It only demands transparency and regulation regarding issues where the nuclear facilities may damage health and the environment.
Former Meretz MK Mossi Raz, the chairman of Israeli Disarmament Movement’s board, said that “ahead of Israel’s 70th year, the use of nuclear technology must be institutionalized and regulated. The appeal does not express opinions for or against the IAEC. Rather, it presents a demand that the IAEC act in accordance with the law.”
Attorney Itay Mack, who filed the petition, added that it isn’t intended to terminate the “secret kingdom”: “Any law legislated will obviously preserve some opacity regarding the full extent of the conflicting interests within the IAEC. But we hope that at least its authority, structure and monitoring of its operation will be enshrined in legislation.”
The High Court is normally reluctant to jump into a gray area involving national security, but in any case, the recent Dimona reports and expected renewed attention in the Knesset may bring more attention to the petition.