Israel’s Reactor in Full Swing – With Norwegian Heavy Water

July 6, 1989, p. 5

Israel’s Dimona reactor is working fine. Every year, its Norwegian heavy water makes about 32 kilograms of plutonium, which the C.I.A. says is going into atomic bombs. Israel promised to let Norway verify that the heavy water would be used for peaceful purposes, but Israel refuses to keep its word. All of Norway’s requests for verification have been rejected. Instead, Israel has decided to be the first country in the world to break the peaceful use and verification pledges, and has decided to make Norway the first victim of such a breach.

Norway began asking for inspections in February of 1987. First, Israel refused because of “technical problems.” Then, Israel said the International Atomic Energy Agency (which Norway had asked to do the inspections) was “biased.” Finally, Israel offered a humiliating “compromise” in which Norway would be shown a small amount of heavy water in drums with no guarantee that the water had come from Norway.

The compromise, which Norway rejected, was made one year ago. Since then there has been no progress at all in the talks. The delay has not affected Dimona. In the year since Israel offered the compromise, it has made enough plutonium for 9 bombs. Since February of 1987, when the talks began, it has made enough for 21. The heavy water scoreboard now reads: Israel 21 bombs–Norway zero inspections.

Norway’s efforts seem to be at a dead end. What should Norway do? One alternative is to do nothing and hope everyone will forget about the problem. The government’s sleepy pace suggests that this is being tried. Mr. Stoltenberg has promised more negotiations, but has not said when they will be. He is clearly not in a hurry. Israel, of course, is in no hurry either as long as the reactor is making bombs.

The other alternative is to ask Norway’s allies for help.

The United States has always opposed nuclear arms proliferation, and has searched for ways to stop the Israeli bomb. In May of 1988, in Congressional testimony on Norway’s rights in Israel, the U.S. State Department said: “The United States does support, in principle, Norway’s efforts to obtain an arrangement including inspection of the heavy water.” But it also said: “since our involvement has not been requested by either Norway or Israel, we have not attempted to become engaged in the discussions….”

Why hasn’t “U.S. involvement been requested”? The U.S. voice has been the strongest in the world against the spread of the bomb. It could not decently fall silent simply because an ally is involved. The strong U.S. ties to West Germany did not prevent the United States from condemning German exports of poison gas equipment to Libya. Once the facts became known, the U.S. stand was clear. Once the facts of Israel’s behavior are known, the U.S. stand would have to be just as clear in Norway’s favor. The peaceful use and inspection pledges are the foundation of U.S. policy as well as Norwegian policy. The United States is bound to defend the pledges just as strongly as Norway is.

Norway also needs help in Romania. That country imported 12.5 tons of Norwegian heavy water in 1986 under a pledge not to reexport it without Norway’s consent. Romania immediately broke its promise, however, and sent the water to an unknown buyer. Romania has refused to tell Norway where the heavy water is.

Canada would like to sell Romania 900 tons of heavy water to run two large reactors that Bucharest is now building. But Canada is worried about selling such a large amount of heavy water to an unstable country that cannot be trusted with 12.5 tons. If Romania’s dispute with Norway is not resolved before the sale, there will be a public outcry in Canada. If the sale is stopped, Bucharest will wind up with two empty reactors and the loss of far more money than Norway’s heavy water was ever worth. Norwegian experts have told Canadian experts about the problem with Romania, but have not asked for help. They should ask at once, to get Canada to start applying pressure.

Norway’s dispute with Israel is truly an international problem–a precedent for the whole world. If Israel can break its promises, defy Norway, and use a peaceful nuclear import to make atomic bombs, anyone can. Israel’s actions threaten all the countries that belong to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, not just Norway. To solve this international problem, Norway needs an international solution. Norway should ask all the members of the Treaty–beginning with the United States–for help now, before the score in Israel’s favor is thirty or forty to zero.

The author, who is American, has been strongly engaged in the debate over Norway’s exports of heavy water to Israel and other countries.  Gary Milhollin is a Professor of Law at the University of Wisconsin.  He now lives near Washington, D.C., where he directs the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control.