Texas Nuclear Weapons Plant Cited for Safety Issues

April 29, 2014

Experts have recommended improving operating and training procedures after inspectors raised concerns about explosives safety at the nation’s only nuclear weapons assembly and dismantling plant.

A letter to Pantex from the U.S. Department of Energy cites six incidents since August 2012 that have heightened concerns, The Amarillo Globe-News reported.

The incidents include improperly packaging explosives in containers not meant for explosives, improper packaging of special nuclear materials and improper shipping of incompatible explosive materials.

Officials with plant operator B&W Pantex told the newspaper they did not want to comment on the letter from the director of enforcement and oversight in the department’s Office of Health, Safety and Security.

John S. Boulden, director of enforcement and oversight in that office, wrote that the letter is intended to “convey concerns about the level of rigor applied by B&W Pantex in safely executing work.” The operator should examine the broader issues identified in the letter and determine whether additional corrective actions might be warranted, he wrote.

“The events are significant in that they involved improper management, handling or labeling of highly hazardous materials, including explosives, which have the potential to cause serious injury or death,” Boulden wrote to John Woolery, president and general manager of B&W Pantex.

The office opted not to fine the Pantex contractor but said it will continue to monitor the plant to ensure hazardous materials are properly handled and labeled.

In the most recent incident in October, several discrepancies in the labeling of explosive materials containers were discovered. In an attempt to resolve one discrepancy, B&W Pantex personnel inappropriately removed a label and the material was shipped, resulting in the shipment of incompatible explosive materials.

Pantex, located 17 miles northeast of Amarillo, assembles, dismantles and modifies nuclear weapons from the U.S. atomic arsenal.

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