It was a dark day in Naturita, Colo., when Chem-Nuclear Systems Inc. announced that a nearby site was out of the running as a possible nuclear waste dump.
In most other American towns, such an announcement would have been cause for rejoicing. But leaders in this small, western Colorado town (pronounced ''Natta-Rita'') had lobbied hard for the low-level radioactive waste disposal operation because it would bring 100 new jobs to their economically depressed town.
Chem-Nuclear had spent a year studying 1,040 acres of range land outside the city of 900, but concluded, with regrets, that the site had too great a potential for geological faulting and flash floods.
City leaders, though disappointed, said they bore Chem-Nuclear no ill will. ''It seems like we are coming out losers when we can't even attract a nuclear waste site that no one else wants,'' lamented town board member Don Crane.
When the town fell on hard times, a nuclear waste dump seemed a natural industry to court. Naturita is in the heart of uranium mining country, and for a century the people there have lived with radioactivity. The town even boasts a Yellow Rock Cafe and a Uranium Drive-In Theatre. The surrounding sagebrush-and-pine landscape is dotted with more than 100 uranium mines. But for the last several years the uranium mining industry has been severely depressed. The results have been disastrous for the local economy, since the town has no other industry.
While a disappointment to tiny Naturita, the announcement came as a relief to other communities in the region. Trendy Telluride, an affluent resort town about 50 miles away, vigorously opposed the measure. And people in nearby Norwood were fighting it at the state level.