Senior fire-fighting officials are warning that a serious gas leak may occur at the Reading power station - which would set off a fireball that would injure thousands of residents in northern Tel Aviv, and could even cause planes to explode at nearby Sde Dov airport, according to the Hebrew weekly Yediot Tel Aviv. The study, presented to Tel Aviv University, found inadequate safety precautions to prevent a leak from turning into a major disaster.
According to the report, the "apocalyptic" scenario does not come from a horror movie but is part of a serious investigation by fire-fighting and medical officials into the consequences of a gas leak at Reading. They found that there would be "significant harm to Israel Electric workers in the area and significant harm to thousands of people in the nearby community."
The report says officials have been fearful whether sufficient safety precautions have been taken ever since the Reading power station switched to using natural gas two years ago. The gas passes through an undersea pipeline from Ashdod which turns inland some 600 meters north of the power station's chimney. Fifty meters inland, the pipeline splits into northward and southward lines, which run parallel to - and just 100 meters from - the runway at Sde Dov airport.
The gas is then channeled through a pressure reduction machine, known as the PRMS, before it enters the station's turbines. It is this piece of apparatus that has the officials worried. They say it is located on an exterior part of the power station's grounds, and Israel Electric workers have no access to it in the event of a leak or breakdown. If there is a leak, gas, being lighter than air, would rise directly into the airspace of planes flying into or out of Sde Dov, possibly causing a mid-air explosion. Diffused gas - which is odorless and colorless and therefore difficult to detect - could lead to a chain of explosions when it comes into contact with flammable materials at the airport, the power station and in the surrounding neighborhoods. And, worst of all, a giant fireball could explode from the station's chimney, setting off further explosions, injuring thousands of people and causing untold damage.
"This is absurd like nothing else," an unidentified senior fire-fighting official said. "Where else would you hear that a mechanism of this importance and with the potential to cause this much damage remains unsupervised?"
But a spokesman for the gas company said the company "takes every measure" to ensure there will be no leak from the machine, sending a team to inspect it every second day and otherwise keeping a watch on it with closed-circuit cameras and pressure gauges. The spokesman said the machine had been installed "by the best natural gas specialists in the world," and that Israel Electric employees are not qualified to deal with any problems in the machine or in the pipelines, and so are not allowed access to them. An Israel Electric spokesman agreed that responsibility for the machine and the pipelines lies entirely with the gas company. But the fire-fighters and doctors who would have to deal with the consequences of any problem still say this is not enough and greater precautions need to be taken.