Haifa Chemicals' ammonia tank, Israel's largest ammonia tank, is seen in the Haifa bay area.
(photo credit: REUTERS/BAZ RATNER)
The Environmental Protection Ministry has extended the toxins permit for Haifa’s ammonia tank until July 31 in line with last week’s High Court ruling that it must be emptied by that date.
The 12,000-ton capacity processing and storage facility, which is operated by Haifa Chemicals in the city’s industrial zone, has been the subject of ongoing disputes and legal battles for years. Although the tank was previously supposed to shut down in April, the High Court last Sunday extended its operations until the end of July and approved a one-time ammonia shipment to satisfy the country’s immediate needs.
Because the facility’s toxins permit expired on June 1, the Environmental Protection Ministry temporarily renewed the license on Sunday.
The facility began garnering international attention a year ago when Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah threatened to attack it. Environmentalists have long dubbed the tank – which stores all the ammonia imported by Israel – a “ticking time bomb.” Ammonia is a widely used in industrial refrigeration and fertilizer production, but it is also a highly toxic gas once exposed to air.
In 2013, the government decided that the contentious tank must eventually be shut down and transferred to Mishor Rotem in the Negev, a much less populated location.
Yet in November 2016, the Environmental Protection Ministry said the tendering process for that step had failed. As the tank’s closure date approaches, the government continues to review alternative options for both short- and long-term ammonia supply.
Although the ministry authorized the toxins permit extension on Sunday, officials said they would request clarification from the High Court regarding the expected timeline and instructions for emptying the tank.
One particular question, according to the ministry, regards whether the tank will be emptied to the pumping line – the situation at the facility today – or whether it will be entirely evacuated. The latter requires much more time due to safety concerns, a ministry statement said.
“After receiving clarification from the High Court, and after completing an examination of the latest emptying program submitted, the ministry will update the toxins permit if necessary,” the statement added