By Walter F. Roche Jr.
A recent attempt to restart US Nitrogen's nitric acid plant in Midway was quickly halted and the company is working to service a nitrogen gas monitor before a restart will be attempted, according to a statement from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.
Kim Schofinski, a spokeswoman for the state agency said the startup on Jan. 17 was halted soon afterward, but she declined to characterize the effort as a success or failure.
"US Nitrogen's nitric acid plant ran on Jan. 17 but shut down. They are working to service the nitrous oxide continuous monitor before scheduling a restart of the plant," she wrote in an email response to questions.
In a subsequent statement Schofinski said, "US Nitrogen's nitric acid plant started up on Jan. 17, but shut down soon thereafter. Our role is to ensure regulatory requirements are met, not to determine what constitutes a 'successful' or 'unsuccessful' start up.
Previously TDEC disclosed the attempted start up on Jan. 17 but did not disclose the subsequent shutdown.
The failed start up marks at least the fourth time the company has tried and failed to get the plant in operation.
Despite the TDEC disclosure US Nitrogen issued a press release today contending that the overall plant had reached full production capacity and was supplying ammonium nitrate to its parent company, Ohio based Austin Powder.
“US Nitrogen began operation of its nitric acid and liquid ammonium nitrate plants in April and May 2016, respectively. Ammonia plant operation began in late June 2016 and fully integrated operation of all operating units began in September 2016," the company stated.
The claim of full capacity also comes after the company reported to TDEC earlier this month that it drew no water from the Nolichucky River in December. At full operation the company has stated it would draw as much as 2 million gallons of water per day from the river.
The first known attempt to start the nitric acid plant in August produced a thick orange cloud of nitrogen gas that hung over the 500 acre site. A second attempt on the same day failed as did one in September.
US Nitrogen officials have not responded to repeated requests for information on the start up efforts. Today's press release was issued to the local newspaper.
The nitric acid plant is just one of several operations at the facility which will produce ammonium nitrate which will be used in the manufacture of explosives by Austin Powder.
According to Schofinski, TDEC officials were on hand for the Jan. 17 start up effort.