Israel's Nuclear Shopping List
The Risk Report
Volume 2 Number 4 (July-August 1996)
Despite Israel's impressive achievements in nuclear weaponry, it still need imports to maintain and develop its existing arsenal. According to a 1992 Pentagon study, "The Militarily Critical Technologies List," Israel's strongest capabilities lie in processing nuclear materials and in developing high explosives for nuclear weapon detonation. Israel is less capable in enriching fissile material, building power reactors and mastering thermonuclear fusion.
One of Israel's most important recent imports has been people. Following the breakup of the Soviet Union, Israel began recruiting Soviet nuclear scientists. In 1991 alone, nearly 20 top Soviet scientists reportedly emigrated to Israel, some of whom were involved in operating nuclear power plants and planning for the next generation of Russian reactors. In September 1992, German intelligence was quoted in the press as estimating that 40 Soviet nuclear scientists had emigrated to Israel since 1989.
The biggest challenge for Israel's nuclear weapon program has been its inability to openly conduct explosive tests. To compensate for this limitation, Israel must rely on imported high-speed computers. Supercomputers can simulate what goes on inside both fission and fusion weapons. Israel will also have a continuing need for other diagnostic and development tools such as vibrational test equipment, flash X-ray machines and multistage light gas guns.
To continue enriching uranium with gas centrifuges, Israel will need to replace worn-out centrifuges and their parts. This, in turn, will require continued access to high-speed balancing equipment, high-strength rotor materials such as fibrous and filamentary materials, to filament winding machines, and to frequency changers and inverters. Israel also needs a steady supply of tritium to boost the yield of its existing nuclear bombs. Tritium decays at the rate of approximately 5 percent per year, so existing supplies must be constantly replenished. This means that Israel must continue to run the Dimona reactor to irradiate lithium, Israel's only means of producing tritium. In addition, Israel will continue to need tritium storage containers, oil and rubber-free mechanical vacuum pumps, and palladium and palladium alloy diffusers for separating tritium from helium-3 and other gases. Cryogenic distillation equipment will also be needed to handle tritium.