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Kerr-McGee Resumes Production of Oxidizer

May 11, 1988

HENDERSON, Nev. (AP) _ Kerr-McGee Corp. has resumed production of a rocket fuel oxidizer, drawing the ire of jittery officials still recovering from last week’s blast at a similar plant two miles away.

Officials in this city of 55,000 vowed Wednesday to take legal action to close the plant until the cause of last week’s explosion is determined.

With the shutdown of the plant where the explosion occurred, the Kerr-McGee plant is the only one in the nation producing ammonium perchlorate, a component in the solid rocket fuel used in space shuttle and military rockets.

″We feel absolutely satisfied that it’s safe,″ Kerr-McGee spokesman Paul Reed said in Oklahoma City.

″I think it’s ridiculous,″ said Henderson City Manager Gary Bloomquist. ″I’m totally amazed that they did it.″

Kerr-McGee ceased production of the rocket fuel component last Wednesday following the series of explosions at the Pacific Engineering & Production Co. plant. The explosions killed two people, injured 326 and caused an estimated $73 million in damage.

Reed said the production resumed at 4 p.m. Tuesday. He announced it Wednesday from the company’s corporate headquarters in Oklahoma City.

Bloomquist said plant officials notified Henderson Mayor Lorna Kesterson of the resumption after the night shift had reported for work at the sprawling industrial complex blocks from the downtown.

Last week’s blast at the Pacific Engineering plant, two miles out into the desert, damaged homes and businesses throughout the Henderson and Las Vegas area.

Bloomquist said Kerr-McGee officials last week promised not to reopen until the cause of the explosions was known.

Bloomquist said he had been instructed by city council members to take legal action to halt the Kerr-McGee operations until the accident’s cause is known.

The city manager said he thought the city could close the plant, and he wanted to do so.

″I’m very sensitive to the loss of jobs and the loss of industry,″ Bloomquist said. ″But I’m more sensitive right now to the fact that there’s a lot of very nervous people living in this city.

″I don’t think it’s unreasonable for Kerr-McGee to keep the commitment it made to the people,″ Bloomquist said.

Military officials have expressed concern about the loss of the Pacific plant and its impact on the national defense.

Kerr-McGee spokeswoman Annita Bridges said the company would be operating three shifts, as it was doing prior to last week’s accident.

″If there is a need to increase capacity, we will do what we can to meet that need,″ Ms. Bridges said. ″We’ve looked since the accident as to what kinds of increases we might be able to make.″

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