MOUND HOUSE -- A tantalum powder metal-production plant, one of only three of its kind in the United States, is expected to begin operation here within the next few months.
Pacific Ores Metal & Chemicals/Niotan Inc. is in the process of remodeling an 84,000-square-foot building on a 10-acre site in the Comstock Industrial Park north of Highway 50 in Mound House.
"We have made some changes in our design plans and were delayed somewhat," company Vice President John Crawley said Thursday. "There have been no major problems and construction is going ahead. We plan on being ready by the end of the year."
Through an agreement with the state Fire Marshal's Office, the Central Lyon County Fire District is responsible for the plan review. Fire Prevention Officer Mary Ellen Holley confirmed the review was completed and work is moving forward.
In a major design change, Crawley said the proposed open evaporation ponds were eliminated.
"We had permission to put them in, but we perceived they were unpopular. They were necessary if we pursued a certain avenue. While it is a little more technically difficult, we can proceed without them," he said.
Niotan will produce the powder from a tantalum salt using a sodium-reduction process. The powder will be used to make capacitors for cell phones and other high-end electronic devices.
Sodium, especially molten sodium, reacts violently with water. An accidental contact can cause a violent explosion. However, plant officials say this is unlikely because the salt-reduction process will occur in a completely closed system in a thick reaction vessel within the plant.
Following a number of hearings before the planning commission and county commission, a special-use permit was issued last February. Commissioners said the detailed information provided to the board by Niotan helped alleviate concerns that have been raised regarding the highly flammable process.
Plant officials have said it is unlikely an accident could occur at the plant that would not be contained on site. They said the facility would be the safest of its kind in the world.
Fire department officials added their support and said they are comfortable with the department's ability to respond to potential accidents. The fire department and county officials have been involved with the inspection process from the beginning.
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