The chairman of the House space committee is criticizing the Reagan administration for refusing federal aid for the explosion-damaged Nevada town that makes a component of the fuel that powers the nation's rockets and the space shuttle booster.
Rep. Robert Roe, D-N.J., asked how the townspeople of Henderson, Nev., can be expected to drop their opposition to making the volatile chemical ammonium perchlorate there at the same time the federal goverment turns down a request for disaster assistance.One of the town's two ammonium perchlorate plants, operated by Pacific Engineering and Production Co., exploded on May 4, killing two people, injuring hundreds and causing $73 million in damage. The second plant, operated by Kerr-McGee Corporation, was shut down after the explosion, reopened briefly and closed again after Gov. Richard Bryan threatened to sue on grounds that the facility was unsafe.
A few hours after a hearing by Roe's investigations subcommittee of the House Science and Technology Committee ended Wednesday, Kerr-McGee announced in Henderson that differences with the Clark County Fire Department had been ironed out and that the company plans to resume production of ammonium perchlorate next week. The fire department had found some safety violations and threatened action.
Together, the two plants were the only U.S. source of the chemical, which is also used in dozens of rockets such as the Trident, Peacekeeper, Minuteman, Titan and Delta.
On Wednesday, the Federal Emergency Management Agency rejected a request from Bryan for disaster relief for Henderson.
"Why in God's name would we not give them aid?" Roe asked. "It's extraordinary to me that here we are looking for the cooperation that we need desperately now with the good authorities in Nevada and we are coming back and saying `Too bad, you can rebuild your own libraries, rebuild your own schools; we want to get the most production out of this facility, but we're not going to do anything to help you.' "
Richard Truly, head of NASA's space shuttle program, responded that while the problem is serious, there is no plan to ask President Reagan to declare an emergency.