Environment Minister Amir Peretz declared on Thursday that he will act to urgently remove the huge ammonia plant in Haifa.
Peretz’s comments came in the wake of the explosion at a fertilizer plant near Waco, Texas, which leveled homes within a two-block radius.
"Every moment that passes with massive amounts of ammonia stored near the public is a dangerous moment," said Peretz.
"We must not accept the continued existence of the ammonia container in Haifa Bay. We cannot let the images from the Texas explosion also appear in Haifa," he stated.
Following a letter from Peretz’s office, it was decided that a special discussion on the issue, led by the Prime Minister's National Security Adviser Yaakov Amidror, will be held this coming Sunday. It will be attended by the Director General of the Ministry of the Environment, as well as by representatives of the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Economy and Trade.
Peretz said on Thursday that he had visited the ammonia container and heard explanations by its owners that were meant to calm residents over the threat, "but I suggest not to engage in public relations and rather to work for the removal of the plant as soon as possible. Everyone involved should realize that time is short and the work is plentiful. There’s no reason that justifies the continuation of this dangerous situation and today more than ever we have the opportunity to do so, due to the natural gas flowing to Israel.”
Channel 2 News reported that the Ministry of the Environment has already notified the Haifa Chemicals company, which owns the plant, that the plant will be shut down by 2017, unless an ammonia production plant is built in southern Israel before then. Finding the appropriate location for the plant is the responsibility of the Ministry of Economy and Trade.
Earlier on Thursday, Peretz’s predecessor in the Environment Ministry, Minister Gilad Erdan, appealed for emergency funding from the Treasury for the removal of the ammonia plant.
A year ago, Erdan, who today serves as Communications and Home Front Defense Minister, initiated a plan to begin moving some of the older plants in the Haifa area to less populated parts of the country, starting with the ammonia plant.
That plan was postponed due to a lack of funds, and Erdan said that reviving the plan was a matter of national security.
“It's a ticking time bomb,” Erdan said. “We must do something immediately if we want to avoid a scene like the one in Texas.”
Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav also renewed calls on Thursday to remove the ammonia plant from his city.
Yahav, who has been leading a public campaign to remove the plant since he was elected in 2003, said that "the disaster in Texas demonstrates the righteousness of the struggle that we are leading to remove the ammonia container from the heart of Haifa Bay, but the inscription has been engraved on the wall for years, in huge letters, and it says: ‘Danger!’”
Yahav said that the residents of Haifa did not need a disaster in Texas to learn about the disaster that is lurking around the corner in their own city. “One need not be a member of the intelligence community to internalize the meaning of placing dangerous substances so close to metropolitan areas. Haifa residents still remember the dozens of missiles that fell on the city only a few years ago,” he said.