Pantex

The Pantex plant is America's only nuclear weapons assembly and disassembly facility and is charged with maintaining the safety, security and reliability of the nation’s nuclear weapons stockpile. The facility is located on a 16,000 acre (65 km²) site 17 miles (27 km) northeast of Amarillo, in Carson County, Texas. The plant is managed and operated for the United States Department of Energy by BWXT Pantex and Sandia National Laboratories. BWXT Pantex is a limited liability enterprise of BWX Technologies, Honeywell and Bechtel Corporation.

History

The Pantex plant was originally constructed as a conventional bomb plant for the United States Army during the early days of World War II. The Pantex Ordnance Plant was authorized February 24, 1942. Construction was completed on November 15, 1942 and caused workers from all over the U.S. to flock to Amarillo for jobs building bombs.

Pantex was abruptly deactivated after the war ended. It remained vacant until 1949, when Texas Technological College in Lubbock (now Texas Tech University) purchased the site for $1. Texas Tech used the land for experimental cattle-feeding operations.

In 1951, at the request of the Atomic Energy Commission (now the Department of Energy (DOE)), the Army exercised a recapture clause in the sale contract and reclaimed the main plant and 10,000 acres (40 km²) of surrounding land for use as a nuclear weapons production facility. The Atomic Energy Commission refurbished and expanded the plant at a cost of $25 million. The remaining 6,000 acres (24 km²) of the original site were leased from Texas Tech in 1989.

Also in 1989, the DOE Rocky Flats Plant, located near Golden, Colorado, was deactivated as a plutonium processing center due to environmental concerns, urban encroachment, and protest by activist groups and loss of mission when Congress did not approve the next generation weapon design. The deactivation of Rocky Flats necessitated the interim storage of plutonium at Pantex.

In 1994, the Pantex plant was listed as a Superfund site. [ [http://www.epa.gov/superfund/sites/npl/tx.htm#Pantex_Plant_(USDOE) NPL Sites in Texas | National Priorities List (NPL) | US EPA ] ] The US Environmental Protection Agency has not determined what contaminants and exposure risks are at the facility, but the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry stated that the plant does not pose a threat to the general public. [ [http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/hac/PHA/pantex/pan_p1.html ATSDR - PHA - Pantex Plant, Amarillo, Carson County, Texas ] ]

Pantex employed approximately 3,800 people in 1996 and had a budget of $308 million for fiscal year 1998.

In November 2006 The U.S. Energy Department fined the plant's operators $110,000 after it was revealed plant workers had applied an unsafe amount of pressure to a W-56 warhead that was being dismantled. [cite web |url=http://nnsa.energy.gov/news/1000.htm|title=DOE/NNSA Cites BWXT Pantex for Price-Anderson Violations |year=2006 |accessdate=2008-09-23 ] The workers blamed the mishap on being forced to work 72 hour work weeks and having plant managers focused more on production rather than safety.Fact|date=February 2007

Controversy

The activities of the plant, like those of the US nuclear weapons industry as a whole, have been controversial. In the early 1980s, local Bishop Leroy Matthiesen began encouraging Catholic workers at the plant to leave their jobs, offering financial support to those who did. In 1986 peace activists purchased 20 acres adjacent to the facility to create The Peace Farm, as "a visible witness against weapons of mass destruction". [http://users.arn.net/~peacefarm/hiroshima04.htm 1] It continues to draw attention to the plant in its current role as the lead facility maintaining and modifying the US nuclear arsenal.

In December 2006, an investigation by The Project on Government Oversight "led to the Energy Department to fine the plant's operator $110,000, was due partly to requirements that technicians at the plant work up to 72 hours per week." [ [http://www.azstarnet.com/sn/relatedstories/160480.php Watchdog: Firm nearly detonated nuke bomb | www.azstarnet.com ] ]

A second controversy resulted from federal requirements for physical standards for security guards and the requirement that guards must wear bulletproof vests and carry rifles throughout their 12-hour shift. The guard's union objects to these new requirements. Guards make an average of $72,000/year with 800+ hours of overtime. [cite book | author = |title = Fit to Guard Weapons? | publisher = US News and World Report | date = April 30, 2007]

500 guards walked off the site and went on strike just after midnight on April 20, 2007. [ [http://www.libertypost.org/cgi-bin/readart.cgi?ArtNum=184250&Disp=2 LP: Security Guards Go On Strike At U.S. Nuclear Weapons Plant ] ]

Footnotes

See also

* National Nuclear Security Administration
* CEA/Valduc

External links

* cite web
title = Pantex Plant
url = http://www.pantex.com/
accessmonthday = March 14
accessyear = 2006

* cite web
title = Pantex Plant Operations
work = BWX Technologies, Inc.
url = http://www.bwxt.com/operations/pantex.html
accessmonthday = March 14
accessyear = 2006

* cite web
title = Dismantling the Bomb, Or What I Did On My Summer Vacation
url = http://www.mmmfiles.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=31&Itemid=29
accessmonthday = July 29
accessyear = 2007

* [http://alsos.wlu.edu/qsearch.aspx?browse=places/Amarillo,+Texas Annotated bibliography for Pantex from the Alsos Digital Library for Nuclear Issues]


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