Haifa Chemicals' ammonia tank, Israel's largest ammonia tank, is seen in the Haifa bay area.
(photo credit: REUTERS/BAZ RATNER)
Government officials reportedly have agreed to the idea of operating small ammonia ships off the Haifa coast as a temporary solution following the closure of the onshore tank.
The use of such vessels, each of which would each be able to hold 2,500 tons of ammonia, was among the short-term options Haifa Chemicals proposed to replace its 12,000-ton onshore ammonia tank. After years of legal disputes over the tank’s threat to the safety of the Haifa region, the High Court of Justice recently confirmed that the facility must be emptied by July 31.
Although environmentalists have long described the tank as a “ticking time bomb,” the facility began to attract international attention last year when Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah threatened to attack it
. Ammonia, widely used in industrial refrigeration and fertilizer production, is a highly toxic gas when exposed to air.
The government decided in 2013 that the tank eventually must be shut down and moved to an unpopulated area of the Negev Desert. In November 2016, however, the tender process for that step failed and, with the tank’s court-mandated closure date rapidly approaching, the government has been scrambling to figure out how to ensure the country’s continued ammonia supply.
According to local media reports, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, on Sunday, met with all the parties involved and government representatives agreed that the use of small ships would be the best short-term solution. The decision was made after the use of small onshore “Isotanks” was rejected entirely by Home Front Command and the National Security Council due to security concerns, the reports explained.
In the long-term, the officials favored the establishment of a larger ship several kilometers off the coast that would funnel ammonia directly to Haifa Chemicals, but this reportedly would take as long as two-and-a-half years to implement.
The government is expected to submit an official update regarding the ammonia alternatives to the High Court of Justice on Tuesday.