Haifa Ammonia Tank Not a 'Ticking Bomb' During War, Says National Security Council

The city's mayor calls this assessment 'sickening' and wants the tank moved to the less populated Negev region.

Haifa Chemical's ammonia storage tank in Haifa.
Tomer Noyberg

The National Security Council believes the Haifa ammonia tank would not present a major danger even after a direct hit during a war, the council's head told Haifa’s mayor in a letter.

For two years the government has sought to build an ammonia plant in the Negev to replace the one in Haifa.

Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav wrote to the council head, Brig. Gen. (res.) Jacob Nagel, after Haaretz reported two weeks ago that the NSC did not see any safety justification for moving the tank, which is run by the company Haifa Chemicals.

Nagel replied that a study “determined that the tank does not present a clear and immediate danger, and is certainly not a ticking bomb, even if it were to take a direct hit. Thus it is hard to understand why you say this shows scorn for Haifa’s residents and the area.”

Nagel, however, said the council did not object to moving the tank to the Negev in the south.

Yahav called “sickening” the statement that there was no safety justification, saying that experts from the army and Israel’s premier technology institute agreed with him.

“This statement is highly irresponsible, especially as it comes from people considered the very top of Israel’s security elite,” he wrote. “What more is needed to make clear to these distinguished and important gentlemen that the ammonia tank presents ‘a clear and immediate danger’ based on the view of all the experts from the army to the Technion?”

Yahav said he considered the council’s standpoint, “akin to throwing sand in the eyes of a million people who live near the ammonia tank and see it as a ticking bomb.”

Nagel replied that the discussion on the tank had been going on for years and each party had its own views on the risk. He noted that the council’s study considered variables including the tank’s structure and operation during emergencies, including a potential hit by a projectile during a war.

Yahav added that the municipality would continue to rely on other agencies, including the Environmental Protection Ministry, whose professionals “understand the dangers.”

Environmental Protection Minister Avi Gabbay has said the government’s promises to Haifa residents must be kept, so the ammonia tank’s operations must be halted.

The tank can store thousands of tons of ammonia, a toxic substance that is often used in fertilizers. Haifa Chemicals is currently in a legal battle with the municipality, which has declined to issue the company a building permit.