Karl Grossman (April 2) argues against nuclear power in Israel. He has long been identified with the anti-nuclear lobby. The nuclear debate has been raging for decades, but when Grossman raises the specter of a Chernobyl-type disaster, he crosses a scientific line.
What happened in Chernobyl was the result of extremely outmoded reactor design combined with dangerous operator practice. The four reactors there were basically scaled-up versions of Enrico Fermi’s 1942 graphite pile at the University of Chicago. Valery Legasov, the chief Soviet investigator of the accident, stated, “It was like airplane pilots experimenting with the engines in flight.” No modern “boiling water” reactor can fail in the manner of Chernobyl. Low-risk operation practice assures that reactors will shut down at the merest hint of any irregular operation. The proof of the pudding was the Three Mile Island event in the United States, in which no casualty was experienced, despite design problems (hydrogen bubble, etc.) and operator confusion.
For reasons of technology improvement and changes in reactor economics, the United States has turned to support nuclear power along with the rest of the world. As of this month, according to the World Nuclear Association, there are 438 reactors operating safely all over the planet, with 52 more under construction, another 143 planned (approved) and 344 more proposed. Even former critics such as Steward Brand (author of the “Whole Earth Catalogue”) have become believers. Nuclear, among other things, is green since it emits no fossil fuel products of combustion.
As for the Middle East, both Israel and Syria announced intentions to build power reactors last month. The reason is that they want cheap and non-polluting sources of base electric power (the kind that is generated at all times of day night, without needing wind). Their plans join the following nations in the area:
Egypt – planning one 1000 MW reactor; one more 1000 MW reactor proposed
Iran – building one 915 MW reactor, planning two more 950 MW reactors; one additional 300 MW reactor proposed
UAE – planning four 1400 MW reactors; 10 more 1440 MW reactors proposed
Finally, Israel already has a nuclear reactor located in the Negev. It has been operating for 40 years. Therefore, Israel is already exposed to the threat of enemies trying to attack its nuclear facilities. Building a newer reactor would not create a new type of risk for Israel. Additionally, one old idea pushed by Israel has been a combined nuclear reactor and water desalination plant. Creating fresh water for the region could turn Israel into an agricultural paradise.
Simply put, Grossman’s view of nuclear power is behind the times. Israel is smarter and will develop all sorts of advanced power sources (solar, wind, nuclear). The only possible exception is hydroelectric power, since the number of big rivers is fairly limited. Electricity is needed for a growing population. Using oil or coal to produce it keeps Israel dependent on imports, and therefore weakens its economy and security.