Owners of a plant that exploded with earthquake force, destroying the nation's primary source of a chemical vital to the solid rocket fuel arsenal, said Saturday the facility could be rebuilt within six months with government help.
One wire service report said Pacific Engineering was considering locations in more remote regions of Nevada, Texas and Utah for a replacement of the plant destroyed.But Kirk Green, an official in the Utah Division of Business and Economic Development, told the Deseret News Saturday that no one from the division, an agency of the Utah Department of Community and Economic Development, has been contacted.
"In an effort to meet the critical national interest, we have conferred with representatives of the White House, Department of Defense, NASA and our principal customers," Keith Rooker, executive vice president and general counsel of Pacific Engineering, said at a news conference in Las Vegas.
Rooker said the Henderson, Nev., firm was broke and blameless for the Wednesday disaster that flattened a nearby marshmallow plant, injured more than 300 people, claimed two lives and damaged hundreds of private and public buildings in the Las Vegas valley.
He said federal officials have been advised that a new plant, with outside monetary assistance, could be completed and operational within six months at a cost of $15 million to $20 million. He said when the explosion occurred the company was overdrawn $250,000 awaiting a $3 million line of bank credit and carried only $1 million in liability insurance.
"It is unrealistic to expect rebuilding to begin immediately," Rooker said. He said the firm employed 125 to 135 people, and some layoffs were anticipated. He said 108 workers were in the plant when a fire started and apparently touched off a series of explosions.
In Utah, Green said, "We haven't been contacted by any of their people. We will have our people looking at the matter in case they (Pacific Engineering) need any assistance . . . We would be cautious in our approach, making sure the locations were adequate to the needs of the company and considered the safety of all Utahns. We work very closely with state, federal and local officials on health and safety regulations," Green said.
Lorna Kesterson, mayor of Henderson, also told the Deseret News Saturday that she hasn't heard any reports that the company is looking at states states other than Nevada for a new location for the facility.
In the press conference Saturday in Las Vegas, Rooker, flanked by company owners Fred Gibson, who was injured in the blast, and state Sen. James Gibson, said the firm hopes to rebuild 35 miles away from its present site on a 500-acre parcel either southeast or northwest of the Las Vegas valley.
Rooker said the source of the fire was undetermined and he did not know what exploded. He insisted that the plant adhered to all safety rules, underwent regular inspections and that owners were confident company employees, equipment, processes or product were not to blame for the disaster.
"It is our contention we were not to blame," he said.
The only other non-communist source of the chemical is Kerr-McGee, a plant with smaller production capacity, 2 miles away from the Pacific Engineering plant in Henderson. Kerr-McGee voluntarily shut down operations until investigators determine what caused the Wednesday explosion.
Rooker said by 1990 the nation's defense needs for ammonium perchlorate will exceed the total production capacity of Kerr-McGee and Pacific Engineering.
"The loss of the manufacturing capability of Pacific Engineering, if not replaced, represents a serious threat to the national defense and a crippling blow to the nation's space program," Rooker said.
He said 3 million pounds of ammonium perchlorate, awaiting delivery to the Titan rocket program, were destroyed by the explosion.