Haifa ammonia tank emptied after years-long saga
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Haifa ammonia tank emptied after years-long saga

Court order to close the facility came over warnings a leak could kill tens of thousands

The ammonia storage tank in the northern city of Haifa. (Courtesy of Environmental Protection Ministry)
The ammonia storage tank in the northern city of Haifa. (Courtesy of Environmental Protection Ministry)

Haifa Chemicals had completed emptying its controversial ammonia tank for the first time in decades on Thursday, complying with a High Court ruling that said the risk of a leak from the tank outweighed its benefits.

The tank, located in the Haifa Bay, was first ordered emptied in 2013, sparking a struggle between local residents concerned over the potential for a deadly chemical leak against officials who said its closure would adversely affect the economy.

In its final decision on the matter in May 2017, the court said that even though the probability of a leak was small, the damage it could cause would be unbearable.

Haifa Chemicals has warned that 800 of its workers will lose their jobs as a result of the tank’s closure, but on Tuesday, the labor court in Haifa stayed their termination until the end of September in order to allow them to negotiate their terms with the company’s management, which is in talks with the government over an alternative to the tank.

Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav speaks at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem on March 22, 2017.(Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav speaks at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem on March 22, 2017.(Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The court decision to close the 12,000-ton-capacity tank came after local officials, led by Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav, warned that tens of thousands of people could die should it rupture, and that even more would be at risk if a monthly delivery ship that brought ammonia to the tank from abroad were to be hit by a missile.

The Lebanese terror group Hezbollah has threatened to target the tank with rockets in any future conflict with Israel.

In 2013, the government decided to shut down the tank by 2017 and set up a new production plant in the Negev instead, out of concerns for the safety of the citizens of Haifa. The government has also committed to ensuring a continuous supply of the compound until the new production plant is up and running.

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