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:

yearnuclear warheads
19671- 2
197310- 25
198020-100
198640-200
199260-300
199880-400

Table 2: Possible weapons with plutonium requirements:

weapontypeyieldPuno.total Pu
Jericho Ifission60 kt4 kg2080 kg
Jericho IIboosted fission200 kt3.5 kg50175 kg
strategic NGBboosted fission200 kt3 kg3090 kg
tactical NGBfission10 kt2.5 kg40100 kg
AFAPenhanced radiation2 kt1.5 kg5075 kg
ADMfission1 kt1.5 kg3045 kg
SLCM?80 kt3 kg2060 kg
total240625 kg

Nuclear weapons locations:

Fissile material locations:

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 yearDimona power (MWt)cumulative Puseparated Puindigenous HEUpossible warheads
lowmediumhighlowmediumhigh@ 6 kg Pu@ 3 kg Pu@ 10 kg HEU
196300000000000
196440404099900130
196540407018182590360
1966404070282841180490
19674040703737582706120
19684040704646743507150
19694040705555904409180
1970404070646410653010210
1971404070747412262012240
1972404070838313871013270
1973404070929215480015300
197440407010110117088016330
197540407011011018697018360
1976407570120128202106021420
1977407570129145219115024480
19784075150138162253124027540
19794075150147179288133029590
198040751501561973221412032652
198140751501662143571584035714
198240751501752313911836038776
198340751501842484262088041828
19844075150193266460233100448810
19854075150202283495258120479412
198640751502123005292831405010014
198740751502213175643001605210516
198840751502303355983171805511118
198940751502393526333332005811720
199040751502483696673502206112322
199140751502583867023662406412824
199240751502674047363832606713426
199340751502764217713992807014028
199440751502854388054163007314630
199540751502944558404333207515132
199640751503044738744493407815734
199740751503134909094663608116336
199840751503225079434823808416938
199940751503315249784994008717440
2000407515034054210125154209018042
2001407515035055910475324409318644
2002407515035957610815494609619246
2003407515036859311165654809819748
20044075150377611115058250010120350
20054075150386628118559852010420952

Notes:


Bibliography


© 2000-2001, 2006 by Wm. Robert Johnston.
Last modified 4 March 2006.
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