CLEVELAND - The Pentagon-pushed comeback of a metal used to make parts for missiles, satellites, and fighter jets means an Ohio company is in the running for a new beryllium plant.
The Defense Department is helping underwrite plans at Brush Wellman Inc. of Cleveland for a plant in either Ohio or Utah. Earlier this month, the company won a $9 million contract from the department to help build the plant, which could cost up to $60 million.
The end of the Cold War reduced the nation's need to stockpile beryllium, used to make nuclear bomb triggers.
Brush Wellman, a unit of Brush Engineered Materials Inc., closed its obsolete primary beryllium operation near Toledo in Elmore about five years ago, after the Defense Logistics Agency said it would begin selling beryllium from a national stockpile.
But the metal is finding more uses in advanced military systems, said Michael Anderson, president of Brush Wellman's beryllium products group.
Its stiffness reduces vibration and improves reliability of jet fighters' optical system for locating and tracking targets.
Brush says that for some uses, there is no substitute. Since the Elmore operation closed, the nation has lacked a sustainable domestic supply, the company says.
A Defense Department report to Congress last year forecast that defense demand for beryllium will grow and the domestic stockpile will be depleted between 2008 and 2011.
As the stockpile declines, Brush will be working on the new plant, which is expected to be operating within five years.
Besides the Elmore site, Brush is studying whether to put the plant in Delta, Utah, where it has mining and processing operations that employ 68 people.
Elmore is considered the company's flagship plant and employs about 500 people. It's Ottawa County's second-largest employer.
The new plant is expected to add about 25 jobs and create additional support jobs.
Exposure to beryllium can result in a potentially fatal lung ailment. Brush has been sued over the years by people alleging the company failed to warn of the dangers.
A 1999 series of articles by The Blade reported that an estimated 1,200 current and former beryllium industry workers have contracted the disease since the 1940s.
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