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U.S. Suspends Rocket Fuel Shipments

December 04, 1987|From a Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon agreed Thursday to suspend shipments of explosive, toxic rocket fuel through California for one week, allowing state and local officials to prepare for future shipments of the dangerous substances, a California congressman said.

The Air Force had quietly resumed shipments of the nitrogen tetroxide fuel to Vandenberg Air Force Base on Wednesday, touching off a flurry of protest from local government officials. The shipments had been suspended earlier this fall after Los Angeles officials complained of the dangers of moving the material along congested freeways.

The new route, through San Bernardino, Kern, San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties, avoids busy Los Angeles-area freeways. But Rep. Leon E. Panetta (D-Monterey), who met Thursday with Pentagon and Air Force officials, said that a breakdown Wednesday evening of a rocket fuel truck south of San Luis Obispo was "more than enough evidence to show the potential dangers this shipment presents California residents."

In the Wednesday night incident, a tractor hauling the rocket fuel threw a piston rod while grinding down a steep grade, authorities said. None of the fuel was spilled or lost during the incident, Air Force officials said.

Panetta said that the one-week delay in fuel shipments, which he proposed and federal officials accepted, would defuse the situation, provide time for local officials to take additional precautions and "hopefully expedite consideration of a more acceptable alternate route."

"While the Department of Defense makes no commitments regarding future delays, it is my hope that this reassessment will allow officials at every level of government to work together to advance the safety of residents of California," Panetta said. The Pentagon had no immediate comment.

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