BySharon Udasin, Udi Shaham February 22, 2017
Green groups and politicians have long seen the container, which stores all ammonia imported by Israel, as a “ticking time bomb.”
In a move that will shut down Haifa’s controversial ammonia storage tank by spring, Environmental Protection Ministry officials said Wednesday they will not renewing the facility’s toxin permit when it expires on March 1.
To enable the industry to find an alternative supply of ammonia and ensure that provisions exist in a state of emergency, the facility will be allowed to continue importing ammonia until June 1, but, according to the ministry, no further unloading of ammonia into the tank may take place after March 1 unless it is proven that the existing amount of ammonia is insufficient for the economy during the transition period.
The 12,000-ton ammonia processing and storage facility, operated by Haifa Chemicals in the Haifa Bay Industrial Zone, has been the subject of disputes and legal battles of late as the Haifa municipality and environmentalists fought for its closure. Green groups and politicians have long seen the container, which stores all ammonia imported by Israel, as a “ticking time bomb.”
The tank began garnering international attention a year ago when Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah threatened to attack it. Although ammonia is widely used in industrial refrigeration and fertilizer production, it is also a highly toxic gas once exposed to open air.
“The container places the public and the environment at risk and we cannot accept this,” said Environment Protection Minister Ze’ev Elkin.
In 2013, the government decided that the contentious ammonia tank would eventually be shut down and moved to a far less-populated location, Mishor Rotem in the Negev. However, the Environmental Protection Ministry announced in November that the tendering process for the transfer had failed.
Earlier this month, the Haifa Municipality turned to the Haifa Local Affairs Court to demand the facility’s closure, following the publication of a report commissioned by the city that concluded that a strike on the facility and ammonia- delivery vessels could be catastrophic to the region. While an attack on the container itself could lead to the deaths of thousands of residents, the report said an attack on the ships conveying the ammonia to the region could kill hundreds of thousands – “numbers that were inconceivable in any apocalyptic scenario ever described by the security establishment in the State of Israel.”
Soon after the report, the court ruled that the ammonia tank be emptied within 10 days, but Haifa Chemicals appealed the decision and the court delayed the implementation of its initial ruling until a further discussion on the matter scheduled for February 26.
Elkin said Wednesday that, during recent hearings with Haifa Chemicals, ministry officials had asked the company to present a suitable alternative with a clear schedule regarding the future of the tank, but that because the company’s management did not follow through and the tender process for the southern facility failed, the ministry had “no choice but to decide on the nonrenewal of the toxins permit.”
Haifa Chemicals responded to the ministry’s ruling, saying the company “is studying the decision and will act in accordance with the law.”
MK Amir Peretz (Zionist Union), who served as environment minister in 2013 to 2014, praised the move, but said the right decision will include opening a facility in the Negev.
“It is up to the government to close the plant and remove this horrific danger from the citizens of Haifa and North,” he said. “The suitable solution to this situation is reopening it in Mishor Rotem, and by doing that it would also create places of work in the South.”
“Luckily, the court saved the public from danger, and its decision, which motivated the government to act, might have prevented a large-scale disaster,” he continued.
MK Yael Cohen Paran (Zionist Union), chairman of the Knesset Haifa Bay Caucus, called on the government to implement the move immediately.
“The northern front heating up puts us in a great security danger in the next three months, [and] we should not keep this option [hitting the plant] open to them.”
Haifa Chemicals ordered to empty bay ammonia tank – YNET
The court order to empty the tank within 10 days comes as Haifa Chemicals backtracks on pledge not to appeal previous court decree closing the facility; Haifa mayor accuses Haifa Chemicals of ‘misleading and lying to the public.’
Amir Ben David, Lior El Hai and Ilana Curiel|Published: 14.02.17
Haifa Chemicals has been ordered to empty the Haifa ammonia tank within 10 days and has been banned from restocking until the end of discussions on a petition to close the facility filed by the city of Haifa.
Haifa Chemicals are expected to appeal the decision, which was taken by Judge Ghada Bsul of the Haifa Court for Local Affairs, despite an earlier pledge to “respect the decision of the court.”
In response, Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav accused the company of “misleading and lying to the public.” He went on to say, “I call on them to come to their senses and understand that the rules of the game have changed and we will fight until the tank is removed from the Haifa Bay.”
In a statement, Haifa Chemicals asked to delay discussions taking place in the Supreme Court, adding that “it goes without saying” that they intend to appeal because the decision to order the tank emptied was both “false and erroneous” because it was made without authority.
The petition claimed that there is evidence of a clear and immediate danger to the public by the continued operation of the ammonia tank. The claim is based on a report by a professional committee examining ammonia in the Haifa Bay, which was written by Prof. Ehud Keinan.
The report detailed for the first time the significant danger presented by ammonia shipments to the storage facility, which occur every few weeks.
According to the experts, the danger presented by damage to an ammonia transport ship is greater than damage to the actual facility itself, which has the potential to harm hundreds of thousands of people.
In her decision, the judge noted that the picture painted by the report “causes sleepless nights for every reader” and draws attention to alternative arrangements that have not been implemented.
As reported in Yedioth Ahronoth, the Ministry of Environmental Protection is expected to announce in the coming days that it has revoked the company’s permit to use ammonia, which is expected to cause the closure of the storage tank on its own.
This is seen as part of the attempt by government offices including the Treasury and the Prime Minister’s Office to push Haifa Chemicals to build a new plant itself elsewhere.
A host of environmental groups as well as Knesset members have praised the court’s decision and the ministry of environmental protection released a statement saying that it will “continue to operate with the available tools to ensure there is no room for the ammonia facility in the Haifa Bay.”