NUCLEAR WEAPONS AND FISSILE MATERIAL IN ISRAEL
compiled by Wm. Robert Johnston
1 October 2001, corrected 4 March 2006
Israel is considered an undeclared nuclear weapon state. It does not openly claim to possess nuclear weapons, but it is now recognized as possessing the most sophisticated nuclear arsenal outside the five official nuclear weapon states. It is even possible that Israel now has more nuclear warheads than the United Kingdom.
Background. Israel began its program to develop nuclear weapons in 1956. In the following years France provided considerable assistance, including the sale of the IRR 2 breeder reactor built at Dimona. Israel's first nuclear warhead was completed in 1967. The country does not appear to have conducted a nuclear test, although some reports maintain that Israel cooperated with South Africa in the atmospheric test over the southern Indian Ocean on 22 September 1979. The current arsenal probably includes boosted fission bombs, and possibly enhanced radiation weapons and multi-stage thermonuclear weapons.
Uncertainties. The size of Israel's nuclear arsenal depends on how much plutonium has been produced at Dimona. Estimates of the capacity of this facility vary considerably. The size, diversity, and sophistication of the arsenal is somewhat speculative. A key factor in assessments of Israel's arsenal is the credibility of the 1986 reports by Mordechai Vanunu, which described in detail plutonium processing and weapon component manufacturing at Dimona.
Specifically, the original capacity of the Dimona reactor was 40 MWt, increased to about 75 MWt around 1970. The Vanunu testimony regarding the amount of plutonium processed implied a capacity of 150 MWt. An alternative explanation of Vanunu's testimony suggested that the capacity remained at 75 MWt but that Vanunu's reported plutonium quantities represented a backlog in processing. A Federation of American Scientists examination of satellite imagery in 2000 supports the latter explanation.
An additional variable is the amount of plutonium used per weapon. The traditional conservative estimate is about 6 kg per weapon. Vanunu reported an average of 4 kg per weapon. Additionally, the analysis by Cochran and Paine points out that low yield weapons could be produced using only 1 kg of plutonium per weapon. If some tactical weapons are produced with significantly smaller amounts of plutonium, this would stretch the stockpile amounts significantly.
Israel is not generally believed to have conducted uranium enrichment for use in weapons, but this possibility would affect estimates. A few reports do suggest that Israel may be enriching uranium to supplement its fissile material stockpile.
Table 1: Stockpile history estimates:
Table 2: Possible weapons with plutonium requirements:
|Jericho I||fission||60 kt||4 kg||20||80 kg|
|Jericho II||boosted fission||200 kt||3.5 kg||50||175 kg|
|strategic NGB||boosted fission||200 kt||3 kg||30||90 kg|
|tactical NGB||fission||10 kt||2.5 kg||40||100 kg|
|AFAP||enhanced radiation||2 kt||1.5 kg||50||75 kg|
|ADM||fission||1 kt||1.5 kg||30||45 kg|
|SLCM||?||80 kt||3 kg||20||60 kg|
Nuclear weapons locations:
- Eilabun (32°46'N, 35°25'E): possible tactical nuclear warhead storage, est. 80 warheads (50 AFAPs, est. 2 kt enhanced radiation; 30 ADMs, est. 1 kt fission)
- Haifa (32°49'N, 35°02'E): submarine base for 3 SSG and storage of warheads for SLCMs; est. 20 SLCMs
- Hatzerim air base (31°14'N, 34°40'E): base for 25 F-15Is, nuclear capable, possible alert aircraft
- Ramon air base (30°46'N, 34°40'E): base for F-16Is, possibly nuclear capable
- Tel Nof air base (31°49'N, 34°50'E): possible alert aircraft (F-16s?) to carry NGBs; NGBs stored in Tirosh bunkers
- Tirosh (31°46'N, 34°53'E): 21 bunkers (5 large, 16 small) for nuclear warhead storage, est. 70 NGBs (30 NGBs, est. 200 kt boosted fission; 40 NGBs, est. 10 kt fission)
- Yodefat (32°50'N, 35°17'E): possible nuclear weapons assembly and disassembly facility; est. 2 nuclear warheads on site (est. 1 kt fission)
- Zachariah (31°45'N, 34°56'E): 20 Jericho I SRBMs (est. 60 kt fission) and 50 Jericho II IRBMs (est. 200 kt boosted fission) missiles on TELs in caves/ shelters; entire missile field covers about 20 km2 (smaller than 6 km by 4 km)
Fissile material locations:
- Dimona (31°00'N, 35°09'E): IRR 2, breeder reactor, est. 75 MWt, fueled with natural uranium; Machon 2, plutonium reprocessing facility, est. 10 kg of plutonium on site; Machon 9, laser enrichment facility for HEU production, est. 2 kg of HEU on site
- Nahal Soreq (31°54'N, 34°42'E): IRR 1, research reactor, 5 MWt, fueled with 4.78 kg of HEU enriched to 90-93%; est. 5 kg of HEU in spent fuel on site; this material under IAEA safeguards; nuclear weapons research and design laboratory, possibly with additional fissile material on site
Total nuclear warheads and fissile material:
242 nuclear warheads, total yield 19.3 mt (containing 630 kg plutonium)
10 kg additional plutonium
12 kg additional highly enriched uranium
nuclear warheads at 5 sites (82 sites/launchers)
fissile material at 2 sites
Table 3: Postulated fissile material output for Israel
|Dec of year||Dimona power (MWt)||cumulative Pu||separated Pu||indigenous HEU||possible warheads|
|low||medium||high||low||medium||high||@ 6 kg Pu||@ 3 kg Pu||@ 10 kg HEU|
- Dimona power levels are low, middle, and high estimates.
- Cumulative plutonium output estimates are based on respective Dimona power estimates.
- Separated plutonium amounts are hypothetical based on Vanunu testimony.
- Indigenous highly enriched uranium amounts are hypothetical assuming laser enrichment of 3% of Israel's domestic yellowcake production.
- Numbers of warheads are based on available plutonium (middle estimate) and hypothesized HEU stocks.
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© 2000-2001, 2006 by Wm. Robert Johnston.
Last modified 4 March 2006.
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