A month after Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah threatened to target the ammonia storage facility in Haifa Bay in any future conflict with Israel, a senior IDF officer has reassured the public: “Even in the worst case, a missile strike on the ammonia tanks will not be disastrous; certainly, there is no ‘atomic bomb’ scenario like Hezbollah threatened.”
The senior officer said Home Front Command was constantly monitoring the security of the tank - which can store up to 12,000 tons of ammonia - and considering the effects of a leak in a variety of possible events.
“We have modeled a wide range of scenarios based on the arsenal available to the enemy, its aims, our response, the protective measures for the tank, and our interception capabilities. The worst-case scenario is a surprise Hezbollah attack, with missiles launched at the tank, and a direct hit on the target with a 100-kilogram warhead.
“The scenario - which assumes a full tank containing 12,000 tons of ammonia - envisages the possibility of a large leak that is carried by the wind towards nearby residential neighborhoods. Even in that scenario, it would require several minutes of exposure to the ammonia cloud before any injury is irreversible. Anyone who finds shelter - such as in a house or a car - within ten minutes will not suffer serious injury. There will mostly be cases of burns and nausea. People will be hurt, but it is doubtful they will number in the dozens; there will not be hundreds of casualties, and there will definitely not be mass casualties,” said the officer.
The officer further said any potential threat would be even easier to contain in other scenarios. In case of conflict, the tank’s ammonia could be emptied or significantly reduced. It would also be possible to deploy an early warning system and a missile interceptor in the area.
“Ticking time bomb”
The tank serves Haifa Chemicals, which imports the hazardous substance, uses it for several manufacturing processes, and provides ammonia for industrial clients. Long before Hezbollah threatened the structure, environmental groups called for its removal, fearing ecological disaster.
The Ministry of Environmental Protection has already announced its intention to close the tank and establish a new ammonia production facility at the Mishor Rotem Industrial Zone in the Negev. As part of the process, the ministry published a tender, for which six groups have bid. The deadline for bids was the end of the month until it was changed to mid-May - for fear the high price of natural gas would reduce the financial interest in opening an ammonia facility.
Recently, Minister of Environmental Protection Avi Gabai asked Minister of Energy Yuval Steinitz to provide an exemption to the project and set a fixed price for the natural gas supplied to the factory.
Zalul, an environmental NGO working to remove the ammonia tank from Haifa Bay, said: “We have been saying for years the ammonia tank in Haifa Bay is dangerous and obsolete. Anyone can see that a tank storing 12,000 tons of a poisonous, volatile gas in the heart of a residential neighborhood is a ticking time bomb. Since the Ministry of Environmental Protection is unable to advance the government decision - to shutter the tank and build an ammonia facility in the Negev - Zalul is calling on the government to consider an alternative: building two small, armored ammonia tanks in the north and south in order to reduce the danger to residents.”
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on March 15, 2016
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