The cabinet Sunday morning unanimously approved the construction of an ammonia plant in the Mishor Rotem area of the Negev and the decommissioning of the large ammonia storage tank in the Haifa Bay area by 2017. The Haifa ammonia tank is considered to be a serious threat to hundreds of thousands of residents in the area, due to the danger of leaks or the possibility of an intentional attack on the tank.
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The Environmental Protection Ministry, working with the director-general of the Prime Minister's Office Harel Locker and the Israel Lands Authority, will publish a tender for leasing the appropriate land in the Mishor Roten industrial zone the Negev in the next few months.
In addition to an ammonia storage tank, the new project will include a factory to manufacture ammonia from natural gas. The project will be overseen by an interministerial team headed by the director-general of the Environmental Protection Ministry.
The new ammonia plant will be considered a project "of national importance and urgency" and government ministries and planning bodies will be required to give it preference. Among other things, they will be required to guarantee the supply of natural gas, once the plant is built. Several large consumers of ammonia are located in the Mishor Rotem industrial park.
The current ammonia storage tank, which is owned by Haifa Chemicals, stores up to 12,000 tons of the dangerous chemical. It has been in the Haifa Bay area for over 25 years.
Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav hailed the decision, saying that it recognized the importance of relocating the tank away from Haifa, rather than just protecting it better.
Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz said before the cabinet meeting: "It is my intention to give the highest priority to the plan and to keep on schedule."
Ammonia, which is derived primarily from natural gas, is used by the fertilizer industry and as a coolant in many industrial facilities and food warehouses. It is also used as a household cleaner.
Dozens of people around the world have died in several industrial disasters caused by ammonia leaks. Exposure to high levels of ammonia can also cause serious burns. The fears of a possible ammonia leak increased after the Second Lebanon War in 2006, during which numerous missiles were fired to the Haifa Bay area.
A committee of experts set up by the Environment Protection Ministry after the war recommended looking into fortifying the reservoir and prohibiting ships carrying ammonia from entering the bay in wartime.