A sense of urgency pervaded the groundbreaking ceremony Saturday at the site of the new PEPCON production facility 14 miles west of Cedar City.

The urgency relates to the need for ammonium perchlorate, an oxidizing agent used in solid-fuel rocket motors by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in the space-shuttle program. NASA is the primary user of the substance and needs it to carry out plans for up to 14 launches annually. Each launch requires 1.7 million pounds of ammonium perchlorate.The new production plant will cost between $40 million and $50 million and will occupy more than 200 acres of property. The facility will eventually include 19 buildings with approximately 120,000 square feet of space.

Keith Rooker, vice president and general counsel of PEPCON, said the selection of the Cedar City site in July was prompted by a number of factors.

"Land, utilities, qualified work force, railway availability, proximity to the corporate headquarters in Las Vegas, Nev., the encouragement of Utah's state, local and community leaders all contributed to our decision," said Rooker.

Rooker also stressed during his address to the more than 200 people attending the ceremony that it is in the United States' interest to have the facility operating as soon as possible.

"Iron County didn't say you have to go over these obstacles, they said, `Here's what we will do and this is how we will proceed,' " said Rooker. Because of this attitude, "this plant will be in operation to solve the needs of this country."

Fred Gibson, chairman and chief executive officer of PEPCON, said the plant will be ready for production by May 1. When asked about the safety of the plant, Gibson said, "When complete, this will be the safest plant in the United States." He said the plant will use state-of-the-art equipment with the most contemporary and effective safety equipment and procedures available.

Gibson said there is no truth to rumors that financial backing for the project isn't solid, and said that if finances hadn't been worked out the company wouldn't be proceeding with construction.

Local and PEPCON officials all agreed during their speeches that cooperation of state, county and local officials as well as private industry helped make the coming of PEPCON to southern Utah a reality. Sen. Dixie Leavitt, R-Cedar City, who grew up in Nevada, said the plant is a great opportunity for growth in Utah and a mutually beneficial arrangement for southern Utah and PEPCON.

Daniel S. Rak, deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force, said that becauseof the cooperation of "national leaders down to the city fathers of Cedar City,no shuttle missions will be delayed and no launch vehicles will be delayed for the lack of this ingredient (ammonium perchlorate)."

PEPCON treated county residents to dinner at the SUSC Centrum, where the formal ceremony was held Saturday afternoon, and residents viewed exhibits representing the space industry.

American Pacific Corp., PEPCON's corporate parent, will maintain permanent business activities in southern Nevada, including the development of a major industrial park.