Gas, Oil… Uranium
New Gas Field Found on Israeli-Lebanese Disputed Maritime Border
New in the Website
As usual, in Israel everything seems to be open to the media, with reports describing the large findings since the day gas was discovered. Even early explorations were exhaustively described. However, the importance of the last finding has not been fully explained. Knowing a bit about the peculiarities of oil fields in Israel, the event gets a new and surprising angle to the extent that a sea war between Israel and Lebanon seems almost inevitable.
There are literally several dimensions to the new finding. The new fields could transform Israel into independent in terms of energy for decades. Moreover, in November 2011, Cyprus announced it would explore its undersea natural gas wells (which are also marked on the map above). This would be done in cooperation with Israel, which is strengthening its relations with Cyprus following the near rupture of its relations with its former closest-ally Turkey (see Freedom Flotilla). The latter supports the Turkish state in northern Cyprus, and has already complained about Cyprus intention to develop the gas fields shared by both Cypriote states. The deterioration of the relations between Israel and Egypt after the fall of Mubarak provides another motivation for the new alliance between Israel and Cyprus. This new alliance could shift energy focus away from OPEC oil countries, at least on a regional scale. This is all very interesting, on the verge of matching a chewy South-American soap-opera, but “yesh dvarim bego” (“there are further things in the back”) as Israeli officials are probably whispering to friendly journalists these days while asking to keep those things offline.
The bombshell was barely mentioned in mainstream media reports. Below the gas of Tanin I was found oil in unknown quantities. This is not the first time oil was found in the eastern coastal area of the Mediterranean Sea.
One may ask, how come there is so much oil in Saudi Arabia and so few just west of there? This is a good question; the answer is that there was oil also along the Mediterranean Sea eastern shores, however, the porous rock below it let it flow away to… Saudi Arabia. The result is what is known as oil shale. While flowing out, the oil impregnated the porous rocks left behind. That explains why gas is found—it floated compressed between the porous rock and the seabed—but oil seldom is.
Overall, the production of energy from oil shale is more expensive than the use of regular oil, thus it is largely underdeveloped. Yet, a large part of the Negev Desert sits atop large reserves of oil shale. The total reserves in the Negev Desert are estimated to be about 300 billion tons. This is huge. Accordingly, an oil shale-fired power plant at Mishor Rotem was commissioned in 1978. In 1978–1981, a 100 kW pilot oil shale-fired power plant was operated. Between 1982 and 1986, PAMA, a subsidiary of Israel Electric Corporation, established and operated a 1 MW pilot plant. A 13 MW demonstration plant was completed in 1989. After 2000, the power station was operated by Rotem Amfert, a subsidiary of Israel Chemicals. The plant was closed in April, 2011. Did Israel renounce to a hard-to-imagine number of tons of fuel?
“There are further things in the back” it was said before. One of the characteristics of oil shale is that it contains uranium. In other words, Israel sits atop a vast mine of uranium and apparently has discovered a new source in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea. Things begin to make sense now.
Uranium and Israel
Israel maintains an “ambiguity policy” with regard to its nuclear capabilities. Yet, Israel’s Second Strike policy is based on its capability to operate nuclear armed submarines. The situation is so ridiculous that it forced Netanyahu to zigzag. In 2010, he decided to attend the Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) on April 12-13, and then changed his mind due to the fear that Egypt and Turkey would use the opportunity to request an investigation of Israel’s nuclear arsenal. Further actions were expected on the issue and accordingly, Egypt proposed that the 2010 Nonproliferation Treaty Conference back a plan calling for the start of negotiations next year on a Mideast free of nuclear arms. Israel answered fast. On May 6, Haaretz reported that Israel officially defends nuclear ambiguity as a “strategic advantage.”
The fact is that there are many good sources on Israeli nuclear capability, including Mordechai Vanunu’s testimony and pictures. Yet, ambiguity seems real. If the reports that Israel possesses around 400 nuclear weapons are right, where did all the uranium come from?
“No problem, plenty of reports on that also,” some may be thinking now. They wil mention Operation Plumbat, a 1968 Israeli covert operation to obtain yellowcake (processed uranium ore). Afterwards, they will mention the 1965 Apollo Affair. This was an incident in which a US company, Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corporation (NUMEC), in Apollo, Pennsylvania was investigated for losing 200-600 pounds of highly enriched uranium. Many believe that Israel received 200 pounds of enriched uranium from NUMEC, mainly given the visit of Rafael Eitan, later revealed as an Israeli spy and who was later involved in the Jonathan Pollard case. Following this it would be difficult to find other events. Yet, this cannot explain 400 warheads. Those reading the Hebrew media of about 15 years ago may find an allusion to a Zim (Israel’s shipping company) cargo ship sinking near the Philippines. It had a secret cargo, and Israel made large and unsuccessful efforts to recover it. The not so mysterious cargo didn’t contribute to the existing warheads. Can this ambiguity be explained?
Reality is simple. Why did Israel operate for many years a rather unprofitable oil shale energy plant on Mishor Rotem (“Rotem Plain” in Hebrew) near Dimona? That wasn’t a feasibility test; such an event wouldn’t have lasted over thirty years! Why was the plant so related to Israel Chemicals instead of to Israel Electric Corporation? Simply, the energy produced was a byproduct of … the first stage of the uranium producing facility. Once the needed amount of uranium was produced, the inefficient energy plant was closed. If more uranium were needed in the future, it would be re-opened under the excuse of testing new energy production technologies.
And now, Lebanon wants its share.
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