The rocket fuel production company leveled by a series of explosions that shook the desert May 4 in Henderson, Nev., is considering building a new plant near Cedar City, officials said.
Pacific Engineering and Production Co. may build the 100,000-square-foot plant that could employ up to 130 workers in one of three locales in an isolated area 15 miles west of the city, Cedar City Manager Joe Melling said.Fred Gibson, president of PEPCON, which manufactures the ammonium perchlorate rocket fuel, confirmed that Cedar City, as well as two other sites in the West, are under consideration for relocation.
PEPCON, whose plant was destroyed by a blast in May, and Kerr McGee, another Nevada rocket fuel producer, were the only two domestic makers of solid-rocket motor fuel.
Officials at Morton Thiokol Inc., which reliesheavily on fuel made at the plant, were unavailable for comment Thursday morning.
"PEPCON is looking at three possible sites,and they would be anywhere from 13 to 18 miles out of town," Melling said.
The sites are uninhabited and separated from Cedar City by parts of the Harmony Mountains, "which would curtail some of the problems created by their (PEPCON's)misfortune in Henderson," he said.
The proposed plant would serve only as a replacement and would be no bigger than the one destroyed in May. The complex would consist of 10, 10,000-square-foot buildings and would produce 20 million pounds of ammonium perchlorate a year, Melling said.
"PEPCO wants to have the new plant under construction by Aug. 1, so they're going to have to name the new site very quickly," Melling said, adding the fuel company hopes to be operational by January or February of 1989.
Melling downplayed the possibility of another disaster like the one in Henderson.
"We have literally hundreds of gasoline trucks going up and down the freeway every month that have more of a potential impact to Cedar City than the plant," he said.
Additionally, the potential for up to 130 needed jobs coming to central Utah "overshadows any potential danger," he said.
Iron County Commission Chairman Jim Robinson said he was "excited about the prospects of a industrial, pay-level employer" coming to his county.
"Iron County citizens have expressed a desire for some economic development . . . any danger that PEPCON may create will be mitigated almost entirely by its location," he said.
Gibson said earlier his company would join with Morton Thiokol and the federal government in securing a $33 million loan to rebuild the plant. Any unpaid balance after seven years will be repaid by the federal government.
NASA officials have said the blast, which destroyed one of two plants that produce up to 36 million pounds of rocket fuel, threatens to reduce the number of space shuttle missions from nine to seven in 1989. Thiokol relies heavily on the ammonium perchlorate producer.