Haifa Chemicals workers place Dimona under 'protest siege'

Haifa Chemicals workers protest emptying of ammonia tank, fear they'll lose jobs.

Chana Roberts ,

Nuclear power plant (illustration)
Nuclear power plant (illustration)

Hundreds of "Haifa Chemicals" workers and their families on Sunday morning blocked the entrance and exit of Dimona in southern Israel, in response to a court ruling ordering the Haifa ammonia tank emptied by April 1.

The workers are demanding that the government find a solution that will prevent 1,500 of the company's workers in Dimona and Haifa from getting fired, following the expected closure of the ammonia plant in Haifa.

In addition, the 700 Dimona protesters point out that their chances of finding new employment are slim to none.

The Dimona workers work in the "Rotem" plant, which works closely with the nuclear reactor and research center.

Haifa Chemicals Workers' Committee Southern Branch Head Yehuda Peretz said, "We are fighting for our lives, and we will not stop. We have no other option but to win. We will not allow Haifa Chemicals workers to be the victims of a political struggle. We expect the Israeli government to find a solution, and not to wait until we receive letters that we are fired."

Dimona Mayor Benny Biton said, "Haifa Chemicals' fight is the fight of all Dimona and of the entire region. We will not stand by while the income of hundreds of Dimona residents is in danger."

Biton also called on the Israeli government to intervene and find new solutions to prevent the workers from losing their jobs.

Though it is not well-known, Dimona's nuclear reactor is one of the main consumers of Haifa Chemicals' ammonia. Though ammonia can be produced locally, the loss of ready-made ammonia may cause a shortage in the "heavy water" needed to run the reactor and an inability to refine and process uranium fuel.

Last week, Haifa Chemicals workers blocked off Route 1 near Jerusalem, causing heavy traffic.

On February 22, Israel's Environmental Protection Ministry said Wednesday it would not renew the license of an ammonia container in the northern city of Haifa. On March 1, the court rejected Haifa Chemicals' appeal to cancel the order to empty the ammonia tank.

Originally, the plan was to move the ammonia tank to the Negev, but this plan never came to fruition.