Haifa Bay’s 12,000-ton ammonia tank.
(photo credit: MAX YELINSON/ MAARIV)
If a security breach occurs at the Haifa Bay’s ammonia container or ammonia shipping vessels, thousands of residents in the region could potentially perish, a report has concluded.
The devastating impact of a strike on Haifa’s 12,000-ton ammonia tank and ammonia delivery ships was highlighted in a report submitted to Mayor Yona Yahav on Tuesday. While an attack on the container itself could lead to the deaths of thousands of residents, 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,” according to the report.
“The Hezbollah secretary-general declared that he sees the container as an ‘atomic bomb’ available to him,” the report continued. “To bring down the Twin Towers in New York, the terrorists did not need dozens of tons of explosives; rather, they realized the destructive potential of a giant passenger plane, full of fuel, traveling at high speeds. The Hezbollah secretary-general was absolutely right about the inherent destructive potential of the container, and more importantly, of the ammonia ship.”
The report was prepared by a team of researchers, led by Prof. Ehud Keinan of the Technion- Israel Institute of Technology, appointed by the mayor to formulate a professional opinion about the presence of ammonia facilities in Haifa.
The 12,000-ton ammonia tank in question was slated to move to a less-populated location, Mishor Rotem in the Negev Desert, but the Environmental Protection Ministry announced in November that the tendering process for the transfer had failed. Long seen as a security risk by Israeli environmental activists and politicians alike, the ammonia container received international attention when Hezbollah secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah threatened to attack it last February.
In March 2012, the government decided that the Haifa Bay tank must close and be relocated to an unpopulated area of the Negev by 2017. In 2013, officials determined that the new plant housing the tank would be established in Mishor Rotem, and eventually launched a tendering procedure.
Ammonia is a highly toxic gas, and the exposure to a mere 0.5% concentration can cause death within 5-10 minutes, the report explained. Ordinary homes cannot be sealed from ammonia completely, and after the gas is leaked into a room, residents can only survive for a few hours.
In response to the report, Yahav stressed that following a persistent struggle of 13 years, evacuating the ammonia container from the region remains an urgent matter.
“During my public career, I have managed many struggles,” Yahav said. “On one thing I have no doubt – the removal of the ammonia tank is not only the longest and most difficult struggle, it is also the most important. This is because the matter is an issue of life and death for a population of a million residents and the danger is here and now.”
The report, Yahav said, presents with “an almost brutal transparency the harsh reality” and highlights the risks faced by the residents.
“This could be our next biggest failure,” he continued.
“It is time for everyone to do something, [whatever is] within their powers and capabilities, to eliminate this bomb in our yard.”