Radius of Destruction

Uri Blau
Uri Blau
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Uri Blau
Uri Blau

Last December, as part of the lesson-learning process in the wake of the Second Lebanon War, the Environment Ministry established a public committee chaired by Major General (Res.) Herzl Shafir to examine the preparedness of facilities containing hazardous substances in the north of the country for emergency situations. Initial and partial conclusions of the committee were made public, and seemed to be quite innocuous. Now it turns out that the true dynamite that turned up in the Shafir Committee's hearings remained classified. Haaretz has obtained the complete data about the dangers of the industrial plants in Haifa Bay, as it appears in the committee's internal documents.

According to the committee's interim report, whose main points are being published here for the first time, a population of 100,000 in a radius of up to 10 kilometers is liable to be affected in the event of a serious attack on the Port of Haifa or on some of the industries situated in the bay. The report reveals that most of the plants in Haifa Bay do not even have a business permit, and some of them do not meet the protection criteria of the Home Front Command. In addition, the port itself is the most problematic point on the bay, because of its many vulnerable components.

The Shafir Committee, whose work is ongoing, consists of representatives from the Environment Ministry, Home Front Command, the Public Security Ministry, the firefighters, the Manufacturers Association, representatives of the green organizations and others. The committee did not refer to specific threats in its deliberations (such as missiles, terrorism or earthquakes), but defined a general scenario of a "direct hit on a facility ... causing total destruction and constituting a significant danger for the surrounding population." The committee also did not examine the probability of the facilities being hit, but referred to such an attack as a factual datum. Moreover, the consequences of the attack were examined on the basis of severe conditions (meteorological conditions, wind direction, high population concentration and so forth). These, then, are the worst-case scenarios, from the major to the minor, relatively speaking.

Haifa port

Some 22 million tons of goods pass through Haifa port every year. Along with tens of thousands of containers of furniture, food, clothing and other items, 2,000 containers of bromine (six a day, on average) are exported via the port every year, as well as other hazardous substances, including fuels and distilled substances. There are also containers of ammonia and ethylene in the port. According to the Shafir Committee report, the Port of Haifa does not have a business permit. More than 1,000 people work there, and in some cases, when cruise ships are in port, there can be some 5,000 workers present.

The main danger in the port stems from bromine, which in a liquid state damages the tissues, while its vapors cause irritation of the nose, eyes and throat. Inhaling a large amount is liable to damage the respiratory system. The bromine is held in special containers intended for the transport of hazardous substances (ISO tankers) and can be in the port for 18 to 24 hours before it is loaded. The bromine containers, the report states, are protected from overturning or falling from a height, but in the event of a missile strike on or in the close vicinity of a container, it is likely to burst. In a minor event, one in which only one container is affected, the report predicts that between 15,000 and 55,000 people in a radius of 2.4 to 6.2 kilometers will be affected. Minor damage to two containers would kick the number of people potentially affected up to 90,000, in a radius of up to 8.6 kilometers.

A serious event, in which one bromine container is totally breached, is liable to affect up to 95,000 people in a radius of up to 7 kilometers. If two containers are breached, 100,000 people in a radius of at least 10 kilometers could be affected.

The positive point of the report asserts that the bromine containers are capable of withstanding earthquakes. On the other hand, no comprehensive risk survey has been conducted in the port, and the containers' durability against the force of a tsunami has also not been examined. The report recommends beefing up the means for treating and neutralizing an event in which containers are hit, determining the port's readiness for evacuating hazardous substances in an emergency, setting a procedure for dealing with an event of hazardous substances on a ship in the port, and examining the joint preparedness capability of the port directorate, Israel Rail (which transports the bromine), the Dead Sea Bromine Company, the shipping directorate, the Home Front Command and emergency and rescue units.

The ammonia tank

The ammonia storage tank of the Haifa Chemicals company, which is owned by businessman Arie Genger, holds up to 12,000 tons of ammonia. Haifa Chemicals is the sole importer of ammonia to Israel. According to the report, the plant does not have a business permit and the ammonia tank was built without a construction permit.

The ammonia is stored in liquid form at minus 33 degrees Celsius. The ammonia is supplied through the terminal to industries that are classified as essential (including the food and defense industries). It is transported to Israel on 12 ships a year, each carrying 10,000 tons of ammonia. Each ship remains in the port for 24 hours. From the tank the ammonia is transported by container to the Fertilizers & Chemicals company and to the southern plant of Haifa Chemicals. Shortly after the end of the Second Lebanon War (August 25, 2006), this magazine published an investigative report concerning the ammonia tank, which revealed that a direct hit on the ammonia tank was liable to affect tens of thousands of residents of the Haifa Bay area. The report noted that in February 2006 the Home Front Command had determined that the ammonia tank must not be used, due to the problem of providing it with protection, but shortly after the war the head of the Home Front Command, Major General Yitzhak Gershon, overturned the decision of the experts, adopted the position of Haifa Chemicals and allowed the company's work to go on as usual.

At the start of the war, Gershon declared in the Knesset that 90 percent of the hazardous substances had been moved away, even though most of the tank was full and Hezbollah missiles struck the bay. In response to the investigative report, Gershon maintained that the decision to retire the tank was overturned following an analysis of the probability of the tank taking a hit, which he stated was negligible. "In the situation that existed," he said then, "with the amount of material in the tank, the chance that it would be hit, the chance that there would be extreme wind velocity in a direction which generally does not characterize the bay - all these factors combined gave us a risk assessment which allowed us to live with the situation as it was." According to the Shafir Committee's interim report, the tank was indeed armored, and it has a mechanism that is meant to stop the spread of ammonia in the event of a hit, but it also has vulnerable points that could cause it to rupture in the event of a direct hit. The committee was told that the major threat to the tank is from an earthquake, which is liable to destroy it completely.

The report states that in the event of a minor attack on the tank, the number of casualties will range from a few hundred to a few tens of thousands in a radius of up to 1.7 kilometers. A serious strike, in which the tank is totally breached, is liable to affect 90,000 people in a radius of more than 7 kilometers. The report found that the tanks were built according to old (albeit stringent) standards, with regard to the event of an earthquake. It recommends technological solutions (which have already been put forward in the past by the experts of Home Front Command) for the vulnerable points that were found in the tank. In addition, the report states that in a state of emergency, ships must not be allowed to enter the port to offload ammonia and the amount of ammonia in the tank must be reduced to a minimum. Another recommendation is to conduct a durability survey of Haifa Chemicals' various storage facilities.

The report refers also to the smaller ammonia tank belonging to the company (which is liable to rupture in the event of a direct hit) and to the ammonia pipeline (which is liable to release gas into the air under a direct or near hit). In a minor hit, according to the report, dozens or hundreds of people will be affected in each of the two scenarios. Serious damage to the pipeline is liable to endanger the lives of 36,000 people. The report recommends technological solutions for the small tank and for the pipeline.

According to a source who was privy to the committee's deliberations, the long-range plan should be to build a tank and offloading terminal in the port of Ashdod, to build a tank to store an emergency stock in a safe place and to build a local facility for the production of ammonia, which will eliminate the need for importation and the need for interim storage tanks. At the same time, the source says, it is clear to the committee that "These solutions will not be implemented in the near term because of the opposition of other authorities to situating an ammonia tank in their area of jurisdiction and, of course, because of the funding problem."

Ferilizers & Chemicals

Fertilizers & Chemicals Ltd. is a subsidiary of Rotem Ampart Negev Fertilizer and is one of the companies that constitute the Israel Chemicals concern, which is owned by the Ofer brothers. The company was founded in 1946 and engages in the manufacture and marketing of both liquid and solid fertilizers, industrial chemicals, products for the treatment of water, food additives for animals and more.

Each year Fertilizers & Chemicals uses 280 tons of chlorine, which is imported via tankers that are not protected and are liable to be breached in the event of a lateral or direct hit. In such an event, in the worst-case scenario, 70,000 people would be affected in a radius of 8.2 kilometers. The lesser scenario refers to 20,000 to 50,000 people in a radius of more than 6 kilometers.

In addition to the chlorine tanker, the company .- lso has two tanks for the storage of ammonia in Haifa Bay, each with a capacity of 500 tons, though in practice, according to a source on the committee, ammonia is stored in only one of them. According to the Shafir Committee report, that tank is liable to be breached in the event of a direct hit, affecting between 5,000 and 9,000 people in a radius of 3 to 10 kilometers.

According to the report, the plant's ability to withstand an earthquake is unknown, and a survey of the subject needs to be conducted.

The Kiryat Ata gas farm

The gas storage farm is jointly owned by PazGas, Amisragas and SuperGas. It is divided into three smaller units of rolling tanks, each of which contains a device for filling mobile tanks. The farm, where ammonia, chlorine and liquid propane gas is stored, is backed up by a fire extinguishing system and an emergency crew, but does not have a business permit. About 100 people are employed at the site, and a security firm supplies guards. The gas companies have agreed to build a new underground site to store the gas, at a cost of tens of millions of dollars, but construction is expected to take two and a half years.

According to the committee's report, a direct hit on the gas tanks would rupture them. They are not protected against earthquakes, but storing them underground is supposed to solve that problem. In the event of a direct, severe event, hundreds of people would be affected in a radius of close to one kilometer. A milder event is liable to produce dozens of casualties in a radius of about 350 meters.

The ethylene tanks

There is an ethylene tank with a capacity of 2,000 tons in Haifa port. It belongs to Carmel Olefins, which is owned by Bazan and Petrochemical Industries. Carmel Olefins has about 650 employees, nearly 200 of whom are contract workers. According to the report, the plant and the ethylene tank do not have a business permit.

The ethylene is stored at a temperature of minus 100 degrees Celsius. Twice a year a ship with a capacity of 1,600 tons arrives in Haifa port to fill the tank and stays in the port about 24 hours.

According to a source on the committee, in an emergency the tank can be emptied to an operative minimum of 400 tons in 96 hours. The ethylene can also be burned if the tank needs to be emptied, a process that is supposed to take 48 hours. In the event of a hit on the tank, there is a risk of a vaporous ethylene cloud being carried by the wind several hundred meters, before exploding. Total destruction of the tank is possible in a scenario of war or an earthquake. Carmel Olefins has another ethylene tank, with a capacity of 3,500 tons, and it is better protected than the one in the port. Nonetheless, according to the report, each of the tanks is liable to rupture in the event of a direct hit, and therefore the recommendation is to add external and upper protection to both of them. In the event of the rupture of each of the tanks, the report predicts a few dozen possible casualties in a radius of up to 600 meters.W