- Twelve thousand tons of ammonium nitrate is stored in Muuga.
- The longer the fertilizer stays there the more hazardous it becomes.
- The institutions have not yet found a solution.
Due to sanctions against Russia, 80,000 tons of fertilizers have remained stuck in the port of Muuga, of which 12,000 tons is explosive ammonium nitrate. The rest is carbamide (urea) and compound fertilizer.
The sanctions concern both the owner of the Muuga terminal, DBT, and the owner of the fertilizer, the Russian chemical giant Acron; more precisely speaking, the fertilizer located in Muuga is owned by a Swiss subsidiary of Acron. Referring to the sanctions, DBT’s representative told Postimees: “We cannot comment on the matter.”
The problem is not even the amount of fertilizer, but the fact that the fertilizer is stored in the terminal – the longer ammonium nitrate stays in one place, the greater the risks become. The Rescue Board also refers to the storage time rather than the amount. Ingrid Teinemaa, head of the technical department of the Consumer Protection and Technical Supervision Agency (TTJA), adds: “In the case of ammonium nitrate, its storage conditions are more important than the quantity.”
It would be pointless to discuss all the chemical and physical details of what happens to ammonium nitrate when it is left standing, but in practice this means that there are very strict rules for storage: how high the pile can be, how many bags of fertilizer can be piled on top of each other, how long it can stay in one place, what are the humidity level and temperature, how and when to check it. If ammonium nitrate has been left in one place for more than half a year, an additional detonation check must be carried out.
Accidents are frequent
Minor accidents and explosions involving fertilizers happen around the world every year. It is well known that fertilizers are also a convenient means for terrorists to make improvised bombs. Imidlertid, major disasters do happen from time to time. The most recent disaster two years ago involved the explosion of 2,700 tons of abandoned ammonium nitrate in the port of Beirut, the capital of Lebanon. The result was more than 200 dead and 7,000 injured. I 2001, 300 tons of ammonium nitrate blew up near Toulouse in France – 30 people died, ten percent of the city’s population had to be evacuated.
Two weeks ago, a crisis meeting was held between the Ministry of Economy, the Ministry of Finance and the responsible authorities on the subject of the fertilizers held in Muuga. No solution has been found yet. One of the participants, while praising the understanding of the TTJA and the Rescue Board, adds that he was surprised by the ignorance of the ministry officials: “They asked – but what can happen if the fertilizer is left in one pile?”
It is not easy for the DBT terminal to find a solution on its own. As was previously said, they are under sanctions, and since they do not own the fertilizer, they cannot simply shove it out of the gate. Acron is under sanctions as well. Postimees was told that Acron’s Swiss subsidiary is trying to have the sanctions lifted, at least for one specific transaction, so that it could sell the dangerous fertilizer stockpiled in Muuga. But this transaction would also require the permission of the Estonian state, because otherwise it would be a violation of sanctions.
The Ministry of Economic Affairs commented that the Financial Intelligence Unit has granted the company exceptions necessary for preventing hazards and that the companies can pay for the safe handling of chemicals. This means that they can be engaged in regular storage of the fertilizer, but cannot remove it from Muuga.
The latest visit of the Rescue Board to Muuga to check the fertilizer was in June. But TTJA is most familiar with the matter. According to them, there is no immediate hazard. “The situation at the Muuga terminal is currently under control and safe,” says Teinemaa. The Ministry of Economic Affairs also adds that it communicates with DBT and the respective authorities every day.
A solution is difficult to find
Both the ministry and the state agencies confirm that they are looking for a solution for removing the fertilizer from Muuga. Because DBT, Acron and their owners come under sanctions, they cannot use their property in Estonia or anywhere else in Europe. An exception is the permission mentioned previously, granted to them so that they could pay the bills for the safety of the terminal. På samme tid, there is no reason to believe that the sanctions against Russia would be revised because of a some tens of thousand tons of fertilizer stuck in Estonia. Therefore it is difficult to expect a specific solution. The ministry confirms that it is looking for a legally acceptable solution, but so far it has not been found. The longer the fertilizer stays in Muuga, the greater the hazard becomes.