Power station gas leak could spark calamity

Emergency service experts warn that inadequate safety precautions at the Reading power station in Tel Aviv pose immediate danger.

October 18, 2007 15:30


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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. City slams the lid on garbage contractors Tel Aviv city officials are being accused of excessive interference in private matters after announcing that from now on the city will choose the contractors who remove building waste from private apartment buildings undergoing renovations, reports Yediot Tel Aviv. The city is planning to allocate work to just four out of the 100 independent contractors who currently work in the city, but the contractors are planning to fight back. According to the report, thousands of tons of construction waste are created in Tel Aviv every year by renovations to the city's aging apartment buildings. Builders are required by law to remove the debris, and either do so themselves or hire any of about 100 independent waste-removal contractors to do the job. But there has been long-running friction between the city and the independent contractors, with the city frequently fining the contractors for leaving their dumpsters in car-parking spaces, and the contractors complaining that they have nowhere else to put the bins. Now the city has reportedly come up with a solution, albeit one that is arousing controversy. It plans to divide the city into four zones and advertise a tender for four approved waste-removal contractors, each of whom will be solely authorized to remove building debris in one section, with their dumpsters to be placed by advance agreement. A municipal spokesman said too many dumpsters are currently scattered all over the city, and the plan will create more orderly and controlled removal of debris. But many construction and waste-removal contractors are furious, saying the decision will put numerous people out of work. A spokesman for the builders' union said the city has no right to decide who should remove debris and no right to take away the contractors' incomes. The spokesman said builders will fight this "attack on freedom of business," if necessary striking at all waste-removal services in the city. 17 arrested indrug raids Police swooped on 24 Tel Aviv apartments and arrested 17 alleged drug dealers in one night last week, reports Yediot Tel Aviv. The raid came after nine months of work in which an undercover policeman "befriended" the alleged dealers and accompanied them to the nightclubs where they sold the drugs. During this time, he acquired four kilograms of hashish, 115 grams of cocaine and bottles containing 550 drops of LSD. According to the report, police have been working on setting up the raids since the beginning of this year. One young policeman, known only by the Hebrew letter "Mem," went undercover, spending every night at nightclubs in Tel Aviv and Jaffa, becoming a trusted "friend" to suspected drug dealers and buying commercial quantities of drugs from them while secretly reporting back to his colleagues. During this time, he told his family he was working as a nighttime security guard. Eventually, police conducted a concerted series of raids and arrested 17 alleged dealers. Later, "Mem" said the quantities of drugs consumed by revelers at the nightclubs were "unbelievable." He said cocaine could be purchased for NIS 250 per gram, and people were constantly sniffing it in the bathrooms and sometimes even at the bar. And many women seemed to like the hallucinogenic LSD, paying NIS 80 to have one drop dripped into their open mouths, "like filling up at a gas station" Easy for minors to buy alcohol at Sharon kiosks It is surprisingly easy for teenagers in the Sharon area to buy alcohol in contravention of the law, according to an expose in the Hebrew weekly Yediot Hasharon. And the newspaper found that the easiest place for them to do so is Ra'anana, while the hardest is Ramat Hasharon. According to the report, the newspaper decided to test how strictly local kiosks ("pitzutziyot") abide by the law prohibiting the sale of alcohol to anyone under the age of 18, and sent a group of male and female high-school students out on a mission to try to buy one bottle of alcohol at each of 21 kiosks in Ra'anana, Kfar Saba, Herzliya, Hod Hasharon and Ramat Hasharon. Thirteen of the kiosks - more than half those tested - sold the alcohol to the youngsters, sometimes in plain view of prominent signs prohibiting the sale of alcohol to minors. The report said Ra'anana was the most lax in its adherence to the law, with all the kiosks there selling alcohol to the teenagers, while Ramat Hasharon was the strictest, with the two kiosks tested there both refusing to sell alcohol to the youngsters. Herzliya had nine kiosks tested - the most of any city - and five sold alcohol to the teenagers while four refused. A police spokesman said that they are aware of the phenomenon of minors buying alcohol at kiosks, and are acting to enforce the law. He added that kiosks caught selling alcohol to minors are closed down and criminal cases are opened against their owners. But the newspaper pointed out that the police are apparently having little success. Residents cause a stink over smells Hod Hasharon residents are considering legal action against Kfar Saba mayor Yehuda Ben Hamo, claiming that he is preventing action to reduce the unbearable odors emanating from the waste purification plant that borders the two cities, reports Ha'ir-Tzomet Hasharon. And Hod Hasharon mayor Hai Adiv is demanding the resignation of plant manager Ya'akov Ohion over the smells. According to the report, Hod Hasharon residents are fed up with suffering from the stench coming from the plant. They are considering taking their case to the courts, accusing Ben Hamo, Ohion and other Kfar Saba officials of corruption. They claim that Hod Hasharon has funded several viable solutions to reduce the smells, but Ben Hamo, Ohion and other Kfar Saba officials have stymied their implementation. At the same time, Adiv has written to the district office of the Environmental Protection Ministry, demanding that Ohion "pay the price for his failure" to solve the long-standing odor problem, and end his role as plant manager. A Kfar Saba municipal spokesman said the city was working on reducing the smells, and called the Hod Hasharon residents' and Adiv's complaints "delusional." "To our sorrow, even if the smells from the plant are relieved, Adiv's letters will continue to create a worse smell," the spokesman said. Accident sparks new calls to close airfield Another near-catastrophe at the Herzliya airfield has renewed calls to close the airport urgently, according to the Hebrew weekly Ha'ir-Tzomet Hasharon. In the 10th accident at the airfield this year, a small plane skidded on the runway while landing last week, and crashed into a safety rail. The two men on board escaped without serious injury, but residents in surrounding areas are asking again if a major disaster has to occur before the airport is closed. "This accident is another reminder of the situation… It is not possible that such a dangerous airport can be housed so close to residential neighborhoods," said a spokesman for the residents' committee that is fighting to have the airport closed. According to the report, the District Planning and Construction Committee has decided to recommend to the National Planning and Construction Committee that it remove the Herzliya airfield from the list of permitted airports in Israel. If the national body agrees, the airport will be forced to shut down. The Israel Airports Authority is appealing against the district committee's decision. 90 percent of teens victims of sexual assault, study finds An astonishing 90 percent of youths aged 12 to 18 say they have been sexually assaulted in some way, according to a study of more than 1,000 teenagers conducted jointly by the University of Haifa and Ben-Gurion University and reported in the Hebrew weekly Yediot Haifa. According to the report, the study obtained anonymous answers from 1,036 secondary school students. Some 90% said they had suffered from any of a range of sexual assaults, from harassment to rape, but the report did not detail how many were victims of each type of assault. Similarly, the report noted that 82% of boys and 76% of girls had suffered from physical violence ranging from a slap to the extinguishing of cigarettes on a victim, but also did not specify how many had suffered from each type of assault. A University of Haifa spokeswoman said the survey showed that even more important than developing programs to reduce violence, it is important to strengthen the resources that help victims deal with what they had been through. She added that boosting self-confidence and strengthening family and social support were the main tools that helped teenagers. Major building project slated for Nesher A major project to clear away old buildings in Nesher's Ben-Dor neighborhood and replace them with new apartments has been given the official green light, reports Yediot Haifa. The project will create 1,226 new apartments on 135 dunams of land on the northern slopes of Mount Carmel. According to the report, the Ben-Dor neighborhood was established during the British Mandate and contains many old, detatched homes. As in many other cities, Nesher aims to create higher-density housing to meet the needs of its growing population. As well as the apartment towers, the area will gain a new medical clinic, community center, synagogue and public gardens. Sex offender receives unprecedented penalty A man who sexually assaulted two female University of Haifa students has been ordered to pay a legally unprecedented penalty, reports Yediot Haifa. A Haifa judge decided that as well as having to serve a standard prison sentence for his crimes, the man must pay thousands of shekels in compensation to each of the two victims, to his own wife and to the university. The judge said that as well as harming the two girls, the man had hurt his innocent wife and the university "from which he chose to harvest his victims." According to the report, the two students had been trying to catch a ride at a regular hitch-hiking post next to the university when the 45-year-old man picked them up, locked them in his car, and sexually assaulted them. The judge sentenced him to four years in prison and ordered him to pay NIS 50,000 to each of his victims, saying it should be clear that "deeds like this will not be done." But the judge then added the unprecedented step of ordering the man to compensate his wife and the university. He said the man should pay his wife NIS 30,000 as compensation for "trampling" on her and changing her life. And he said the man should pay the university NIS 50,000 to enable it to improve security and install new lighting at the hitch-hiking post. Because the law does not allow compensation to be paid to an institution but only to an individual who has suffered damage, the judge ordered the girls' compensation payments to be increased on the understanding that they transfer the money to the university. Foundation stone laid for children's hospital The foundation stone for a new children's hospital at Haifa's Rambam medical center was laid at a festive ceremony last week, reports Yediot Haifa. The new 15,000-square-meter hospital, to be named after major donor Ruth Rappaport, will be twice as big as the current Meyer children's hospital at Rambam, and will serve the entire northern population. According to the report, as well as the most modern medical facilities and comfortable private wards, the new hospital will contain a cinema, play areas and other special features for hospitalized children. Ruth Rappaport and her husband Baruch have a long philanthropic history in Israel, creating the medical faculty in their name at the Technion, and supporting numerous artistic and cultural endeavors. Pull the udder one… Workers at a Carmel Beach dairy farm were astonished when one of their veteran milk cows gave birth to quadruplets last week, reports local.co.il. Multiple births are a rare occurrence among cows, with the last set of quadruplets born to an Israeli cow back in 1962 and a set of quintuplets born in 1969. Prize cow Abasha was pregnant for the fourth time when she unexpectedly gave birth naturally to one male and three female calves at the Habonim dairy farm on the Carmel Beach. The foursome were all reportedly slightly smaller than usual but completely healthy.

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