Decision on Tantalum processing plant delayed for two weeks

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MOUND HOUSE -- No decision regarding a proposed tantalum powder production plant will be made until local fire officials have completed a review of chemicals involved and they have assessed their response capabilities.

Central Lyon County Fire District Chief John Gillenwater told county commissioners Thursday he would need about two more weeks to determine if the basically volunteer department can handle potential accidents at Pacific Ores Metals & Chemical/Niotan, Inc.

Following more than two hours of testimony from plant officials, industrial park tenants and property owners, as well as area residents, Lyon County Commissioners postponed making a decision on the special use permit application until February 21.

Pacific Ores Metals & Chemicals Vice President John Crawley and Plant Manager Carlos Rerat assured the board there is very little possibility that an accident could occur at the plant that would not be contained on site. They stated the facility would be the safest of its kind in the world.

Sodium is used as a reducing agent to convert the tantalum salt into tantalum powder. Sodium, especially molten sodium, reacts violently with water. An accidental contact can cause a violent explosion. However, according to plant officials, the probability of this occurring at their facility is improbable because the sodium/tantalum salt reduction process will occur in a completely closed system within a thick reaction vessel within the plant.

A dry fire suppression system will also be installed.

Mound House resident Eileen Ferguson has a PhD. in analytical chemistry and 10-years experience in the environmental chemical field. She expressed concern with the hazardous nature of some of the materials involved and the ability of state and local agencies to properly monitor the facility.

"I don't think it is realistic to say we will never have an accident. I do not doubt their integrity, but I think we have to recognize that any process involving human beings involves the potential for human error," she said. "We have to think about what is compatible in that area and we need to decide who is driving the bus."

Others expressed concern with the lack of time property owners have had to learn enough about the process to determine what questions to ask, the on-site chemical storage bunker, potential noxious emissions, effect of high winds on the evaporation ponds, possible flood mitigation measures and a lack of background information on Pacific Chemical officials.

Those in support of the plant pointed out its proposed location in an industrial park is proper and said the tax revenue and jobs Pacific Ores will create will benefit the county.

Mound House resident and building contractor Bill Miles said he has been in contact with Pacific Ores for over a year and helped guide them through the application process, directing them to the necessary governmental agencies. He said he steered them to the vacant 84,000 square foot building in the Comstock Industrial Park that he will probably be contracted to remodel for them.

"I have been working with this company for a long time and they haven't been anything but professional and have responded to every request a governmental entity has asked of them. I told them they have to be very careful and told them about ASG so they would be aware of it. I think the people need to understand the process and understand what is allowed in an industrial park."


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