Former employees at the Negev Nuclear Research Center in Dimona say were given only dusk masks, goggles during an official search for the rare mineral.
By Gili Cohen

Workers at the Dimona nuclear reactor were sent to search for uranium ore across Israel without the necessary protective gear, a court hearing discussing the class-action suit advanced by the reactor’s former employees indicated on Sunday.

The hearing in the Petah Tikva District Court was held on the complaint by 44 employees and their families that the workers are suffering from cancer and other diseases due to radiation at work.
Dimona nuclear power plant

The nuclear power plant in Dimona.
Photo by: Archive

According to claims made by the plaintiffs, some of the reactor’s workers were employed at a “project to search for uranium ore in Israel,” working week-long stints, equipped with only goggles and dusk masks.

The same workers were then examined using a “full-body meter,” a device meant to detect radioactive radiation using a kind of advanced screening.

It was added that the project failed to detect a significant amount of natural uranium from which to process materials that could be meaningful to nuclear development.

Speaking on behalf of the plaintiffs, Dr. Miron Israeli, who at one time served as a safety official at the Dimona reactor, explained at the hearing that the testing to which the workers were subjected was in fact “an attempt at research, and research t was, not a safety test.”

Israeli added that the result of the research was that [Dimona officials] weren’t able to see anything, as expected,” adding that dozens of people participated in the search, “all just under the detection threshold.”

It was also revealed as, beginning in 1996, the reactor began collecting information regarding the employees’ radiation levels, even when those were lower than any significant level, but those weren’t released – not to workers, not to National Insurance Institute of Israel or other authorities.

According to Israeli, the decision to monitor employee radiation levels was made by then Director General of the Israel Atomic Energy Commission Gideon Frank. When asked by the plaintiffs’ attorney what was the reason for Frank’s decision, Israeli said he did not know.

As a result of this move, Israel’s nuclear facilities began collecting two kinds of data – the first regarding radiation levels as they were measured on the ground and the other displaying “0” as the radiation level, since it did not pass the official threshold.

“There weren’t two databases. There was one database in which the results were indicated as they are registered for all Israeli citizens. It means that there’s a registration threshold, above which a result is taken down, with anything below it marked down as ‘zero.'”

The state and reactor officials have been calming all along the hearings that even if the workers were exposed to certain radiation levels, those still were equal to those to which they would have been exposed to during the course of everyday life.