The WHAT?

Today’s NYT has a long obituary of “Rafi Eitan, Israeli Spymaster Who Caught Eichmann

It contains this utterly arresting (at least to me) paragraph:

He played important roles in the surgical strike on Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981; the theft in the late 1960s of at least 100 pounds of highly enriched uranium from a nuclear fuel plant in the Pittsburgh area that helped Israel’s atomic bomb program; and the assassinations of the Palestinian commandos who carried out the massacre of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics in 1972.

Wait a minute. [T]he theft in the late 1960s of at least 100 pounds of highly enriched uranium from a nuclear fuel plant in the Pittsburgh area that helped Israel’s atomic bomb program.??? First I heard of it.

Apparently it’s called the Apollo Affair and there’s some dispute if it was measurement error or an Israeli spy ops. Wikipedia is neutral, and quotes Seymour Hersh — never one to err on the side of there being no cover-up — as concluding that Zalman Shapiro, the company’s president, did not divert any uranium; rather “it ended up in the air and water of the city of Apollo as well as in the ducts, tubes, and floors of the NUMEC plant.” On the other hand, the free-standing website on the NUMEC Affair thinks the Israelis did it:

After the AEC and its Oak Ridge office calculated the processing losses based on NUMEC’s records, they determined that the fate of about 100 kilograms of U-235 in the form of HEU remained unexplained. NUMEC paid for the missing material, but later disputed the AEC calculations, maintaining that the unexplained 100 kgs could be attributed to other processing losses. After decommissioning of the Apollo plant, more than 330 kgs of U-235 in the form of HEU were unaccounted for, with most of that deficit occurring while NUMEC ran the plant.

For decades there have been allegations and suspicions that foreign agents, perhaps aided by American citizens, diverted a significant fraction of NUMEC’s unexplained uranium deficits to Israel for its nuclear-weapons program. Because of the high stakes involved, the affair has been clouded in denial and concealment for nearly a half century.

And there is this:

In 2009 The FBI released a detailed statement that was made in 1980 by a former NUMEC employee who said he started work at Apollo in February 1965 and was fired in October 1978 by the present owner, Babcock and Wilcox, Inc., for job abandonment following an alleged job-related illness. The former employee said he encountered armed strangers on the uranium plant’s loading dock one night in early 1965. He said they were loading what appeared to be canisters of HEU onto a truck in racks that he had not seen before. He also saw a shipping manifest that said the material was heading to a ship bound for Israel on the Zim-Israel shipping line. He said that a NUMEC manager later threatened him to keep his mouth shut about what he had seen.

I suppose this claim might be retaliation by a disgruntled former employee – in particular the shipping manifest part sounds a bit suspect (why would they be open about this in a way he could see?). And the official US position is that nothing was proved. But stil.. Did everyone except me know about this?

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