Nearly thirty years ago, in the fall of 1986, MordechaiVanunu, a low-level technician at Israel’s Dimona nuclear reactor, left Israel for a trip to the Far East. He settled in Australia, converted to Christianity, and sometime in August that year began to talk with Peter Hounam, a London Sunday Times reporter, about what he saw at Dimona.
The Sunday Times flew him to Lindon for more in-depth interviews, in which Vanunu described how Israel has mastered lithium-6 separation process, which is required for the production of tritium. Tritium is an essential ingredient of fusion-boosted fission bombs.
The Times asked two nuclear experts – Theodore Taylor and Frank Barnaby – to examine Vanunu’s information, and both said it was credible. Vanunu described in detail the plutonium processing Israel was using, saying the production rate was about thirty kilograms per year. He further stated that Israel used about four kilograms per weapon. Based on these figures, Taylor and Barnaby estimated that Israel had accumulated sufficient plutonium for about 150 nuclear weapons.
Israeli intelligence learned of his conversations with the Times – but also with the Mirror. There had been persistent rumors that Israel was tipped by Robert Maxell, the publisher of the Mirror who was, apparently, also working for the Mossad (Maxwell committed suicide in November 1991 after it was revealed that he had fraudulently misappropriated money from the Mirror Group pension fund).
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