TERRORISM and the risk of an unlikely but catastrophic ammonium nitrate explosion on Kooragang Island dominated a three-hour Planning Assessment Commission meeting in Newcastle on Wednesday.
Two commission members, Brian Gilligan and Alan Coutts, heard from 18 speakers, all of whom were opposed to a proposal from Incitec Pivot to build an ammonium nitrate factory next to the existing Orica plant.
Incitec already uses the site to store ammonium nitrate and plans to build a manufacturing plant were unveiled in 2011.
In October 2012, Incitec deferred a decision on whether to proceed with the $600 million project, although the company went ahead with its application anyway.
The NSW Department of Planning and Environment recommended approval last month.
Given this history, various speakers asked why the project should be approved if the company did not intend to build it.
But the most heart-felt concern was the threat of an ammonium nitrate explosion, whether from an accident or from terrorism.
Stockton resident Keith Craig said that during the 2011 Orica controversy – when poisonous hexavelent chromium leaked from the plant over surrounding suburbs – the government had said such a plant would not be built today.
‘‘But here it is recommending another one be built next door,’’ he said.
Ian Shorland, who moved to Stockton from Sydney three years ago, said Incitec, Orica and a nearby bio-diesel facility were ‘‘soft targets’’ for terrorists.
Explosives expert Tony Richards said that if Incitec was approved there would be enough ammonium nitrate on Kooragang for an explosion to rival Hiroshima.
Mr Richards said 40,000 Novocastrians were living within what he described as a four-kilometre radius ‘‘kill zone’’ surrounding Orica and Incitec.
Mr Richards and others went through historical lists of ammonium nitrate accidents, including a truck explosion near Charleville in Queensland last month and the West Fertiliser Company disaster in Texas in April last year that killed 15 people and injured 160.
Various speakers criticised the Planning Department for saying the ‘‘societal risk’’ of a ‘‘major accident’’ at Kooragang was ‘‘considered to be negligible’’.
The department said it took independent advice on the risks but ‘‘detailed information’’ about ‘‘security sensitive ammonium nitrate’’ was contained in four confidential appendices to its report.