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HERCULES BLAMES SENSOR

A mechanical failure probably caused the March 29 explosion at Hercules' Bacchus Works $15 million propellant-mixing building, officials say.

Ruth L. Novak, vice president and general manager of the Bacchus Works facility, said an extensive, seven-week investigation provided no conclusive data because of the extensive damage the explosion caused. But the investigation team says evidence points to suspected mechanical problems involving failure of an infrared sensor. The sensor possibly broke and fell into the bowl during mixing, sparking a fire when it came in contact with the mixer blades.To prevent a future incident, infrared detectors will be redesigned. And as an extra precaution, more extensive load testing of the mixer and bow will be conducted. Mixer blades will also be studied to ensure safety during the propellant mixing process.

Hercules officials plan to resume operation in July when the changes have been implemented. They say schedule headaches because of the loss of the use of the mixing facility are manageable.

No one was injured in the explosion, which occurred after midnight on March 29, because because of remote control operation and employee safety procedures.

And the Valley West Chamber of Commerce has pledged unanimous support for Hercules' plans to rebuild the mixing facility at a new location further south of Magna. Plans still need Salt Lake County Commission approval. The county's Planning Commission has approved the project, 3-2.