Israel’s ministry orders Haifa Ammonia plant shutdown after Hezbollah threats

Haifa ammonia plant
Haifa ammonia plant

Israel’s environment ministry said Wednesday it would not renew the license of an ammonia container in the northern city of Haifa, less than 10 days after a court ordered it be emptied, Israeli media reported on Wednesday

The container, which can hold 12,000 tonnes of the toxin, put the public “at a risk we cannot accept”,the ministry said  said in a statement.

This development comes after  Lebanon’s Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah said the ammonia container would be like “a nuclear bomb” if hit by his militant group’s missiles.

The ministry banned Haifa Chemicals from refilling the container as of March 1.

It was, however, granted another three months to distribute the material to relevant industries as alternative sources of ammonia are located.

The decision, which follows a hearing by the ministry in December, comes after a local Haifa court accepted the municipality’s appeal and ruled on February 13 that the container must be emptied within 10 days.

Haifa Chemicals had appealed the ruling, with a new court hearing set for February 26.

A spokesman for Haifa municipality said they would continue to insist to the court that the container be emptied without delay.

Ehud Keinan, a chemistry professor who headed a group of experts behind a report presented to the court, said the container posed a clear and present threat even without Nasrallah’s firepower.

Keinan, president of the Israel Chemical Society, said residents of Haifa and the area faced a danger each month when a tanker arrived to fill the container.

If the boat leaked, thousands of tons of ammonia would react on impact with the sea, creating a toxic cloud that could impact anyone within a 20-kilometer radius, Keinan said.

The material is supplied to nearby plants by pipes or trucked off to other more distant parts of Israel. Almost all the stored ammonia was re-exported by Haifa Chemicals in the form of fertilizers.

Keinan said the 31-year-old container had never been thoroughly inspected and would not withstand the impact of a projectile.

Nasrallah, whose group targeted the Haifa area in a 2006 war with Israel, echoed warnings from experts and activists cited in Israeli media that “tens of thousands of people” would be killed in case the container was struck.