32. Memorandum From Secretary of the Interior Udall and the Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission (Seaborg) to President Johnson1


  • Israeli Nuclear Desalting Plant

In addition to the background material which the State Department has prepared for this item, which has been discussed with our Departments, the following views of our agencies concerned with the principal programmatic matters of nuclear desalting plants may be pertinent:

Construction of the plant will significantly advance the Department of Interior and AEC program on large-scale nuclear desalting which you have strongly supported. We need to have several large-scale nuclear desalting plants constructed in order to get this new technology successfully launched.
Israel has characteristics which make it uniquely suited for the early application of large-scale nuclear desalting. Its natural water resources will be fully committed by the mid 1970’s, and further expansion of water supply for industry and agriculture in Israel can be accomplished [Page 62] only through desalting. The advanced agricultural practices in Israel enable a higher value to be assigned to the water than in most areas of the world.
It has been recognized from the outset that the plant would not meet conventional economic criteria for AID financing, and that some additional financial assistance would be required. This is often the case for multipurpose power and irrigation projects. Because of the large investment involved, the cost of the water produced by the project will depend heavily on the terms of financing. Financing which would lead to a water cost of no more than 30 cents per 1000 gallons (corresponding to an average interest rate of 2.7%) may allow Israel to proceed with the project, although Israel will undoubtedly propose a much lower target initially.
There is extensive Congressional support as evidenced by the Baker Resolution, co-sponsored by 53 Senators, which expressed the support of the Senate for a large-scale regional nuclear desalting program in the Middle East. Congressional action to support the financing of the project will probably be needed. Sen. Anderson made it clear that adoption of the resolution should not interfere with proceeding with this project.

If appropriate otherwise, we believe that it is timely to reaffirm to Prime Minister Eshkol our serious interest in the project. We therefore recommend that you take the following approach in your discussions with him.

That the United States is prepared to continue to consider seriously, jointly with Israel, whether a mutually satisfactory basis for financing the project can be found, pointing out that our ability to proceed with the project may well be influenced by the rate of progress toward a political settlement in the region.
That to expedite action on this project, you will shortly name a successor to Ambassador Bunker as a special negotiator, and
That we look upon the Israeli plant as a first step in a broader regional solution to the water problems of Israel and the Middle East. Toward this end, we would want to include in the further consideration of the project alternatives which will provide additional water to meet at least some regional needs. We would also want to initiate at the earliest appropriate time a broader regional study, involving the role that large-scale nuclear desalting can play in meeting the area’s water needs.

Respectfully submitted,

  • Stewart Udall
  • Glenn T. Seaborg
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Files of Harold H. Saunders, Israel-Nuclear-Dimona-Desalting, 1/1/67-2/29/68. Confidential. For additional documentation on the Israeli desalting project, see Foreign Relations, 1964-1968, vol. XXXIV, Documents 130174.