Study: Gas-powered Plant in South Would Endanger Thousands

For over a year, residents of Kiryat Malakhi and the Be'er Tuvia region have been fighting a plan to build a power plant fueled by natural gas near their homes. Now a risk-assessment survey prepared for them is confirming their concern that constructing the power station so close to residential areas will constitute a real danger to tens of thousands of inhabitants - both in the case of a possible malfunction and because of its proximity to factories containing hazardous materials.

Housing and Construction (Shikun U'Binui ), the company building the power station, argues in response that the installation will be constructed in accordance with the most advanced standards and strictures of the planning institutions. Housing and Construction is promoting in the National Infrastructure Committee a power plant to produce 400 megawatts of electricity from natural gas with a special connection to a gas pipeline, adjacent to an industrial zone and near residential neighborhoods of Kiryat Malakhi. A study of the installation's environmental effects is currently in its final phases.

Local residents commissioned a risk assessment of the planned installation, prepared by Dr. Yisrael Barzilai, former head of the hazardous materials division at the Environmental Protection Ministry. "This is an area where there are factories that store the hazardous material ammonia," says Barzilai. "A leak of such a substance would cause a toxic cloud. Moreover, there is concern about malfunctions in the power station itself.

"In my opinion, it is absurd to build a gas plant in a place like this, where there are already factories with hazardous materials and a population of hundreds of thousands," adds Barzilai. "Other alternatives must be considered, like the Tsafit site in the area, on land far from factories and population concentrations."

"This site could bring in a lot in property tax monies, but we will do without that," says Dror Shor, head of the Be'er Tuvia regional council. "We are not opposed to the plant using natural gas but rather to its location, which means additional risk. In this area there are commercial and industrial centers, and residents living just a few hundred meters from the planned installation."

According to Orna Angel, deputy CEO and vice president of planning at Housing and Construction, gas installations like those they are planning to build operate in many places close to urban areas. Angel says building the power station at Tsafit would cause environmental damage to that location, because it is the site of a national park.

The struggle against the gas-operated power station began about a year ago, after the plan to build it began the approval processes in the National Infrastructures Committee. Shor sent a letter of objection to the committee, warning of the environmental and safety implications of its construction. Later, inhabitants set up a committee headed by Shimshon Rosen of Moshav Timurim and began to organize protest activities. Among other things, they directly attacked Shari Arison, who owns the Housing and Construction company.