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Pantex Nuclear Weapons Plant (PX) Information

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Brief History

Pantex is located approximately 17 miles northeast of Amarillo, on the high plains in the panhandle of Texas. The site encompasses nearly 16 thousand acres. Constructed by the Army in 1942, the site was originally an ordinance plant for loading conventional explosives into artillery shells and bombs.  At the end of World War II the plant was closed for a while and then refurbished for nuclear work in 1951 by the Mason and Hanger Corporation. Work on nuclear weapons assembly began there under the management of the Proctor & Gamble Defense Corporation. In 1956, the Pantex management contract was awarded to Mason & Hanger with Sandia National Laboratories and Battelle Memorial Institute subcontracting.

In 2000 the management and operating of Pantex passed to BWXT Pantex, a company formed by BWX Technologies, Inc., Honeywell International, Inc., and Bechtel National, Inc. When BWX consolidated with Babcock & Wilcox Company in 2007 the name of the management entity was changed to Babcock & Wilcox Technical Services Pantex, LLC (B&W Pantex).

Between 1965 and 1975, the Atomic Energy Commission, now the Department of Energy, consolidated various assembly, modification and high explosive missions at Pantex from other sites in the nuclear weapons complex. This left Pantex as the only plant in the United States where nuclear weapons are assembled and disassembled.

Following the 1989 closure of the Rocky Flats plutonium plant, Pantex became the interim storage site for surplus pits.  In the 1990’s nuclear policy decisions and international treaties led to the requirement for Pantex to dismantle a portion of the nuclear weapons stockpile built up during the Cold War. Pits from these dismantled weapons are stored at Pantex.

Although the majority of Plant operations occurs on just 2,000 acres of the site, the Department of Energy owns 9,100 acres at the Pantex Plant itself and another 1,077 acres called Pantex Lake about 2 miles away. An additional 5,800 acres of land south of the main Plant between it and Highway 60 is leased from Texas Tech University for use as a safety and security buffer.

Current Mission at Pantex

Pantex is the principal facility in the U.S. Nuclear Weapons Complex for handling of complete nuclear weapons.  Although there have been no new weapons assembled since 1991, technicians at Pantex disassemble, evaluate and repair existing weapons to certify their reliability and safety. In support of Life Extension Programs (LEPs), Pantex modifies and retrofits weapons components. Weapons that are surplus to the stockpile are dismantled. Some components from dismantled weapons are sanitized to protect design secrets.  The surplus plutonium pits are temporarily stored or “staged” at Pantex and are under surveillance. Almost all of the plutonium at Pantex is weapons grade and in the form of pits.  Pantex is authorized to stage up to 20,000 pits.

In the Record of Decision for the 1996 Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for Stockpile Stewardship and Management the Department of Energy assigned Pantex the mission to manufacture, test and qualify explosives and explosive components for the Nuclear Weapons Program.

Major Facilities at Pantex

Pantex has several numbered functional areas. Zone 12 is the weapons assembly/disassembly area. Zone 4 is for weapons staging. Zone 11 is for high explosive development. There are also other functional areas such as an explosives test firing facility and a burning ground for disposing of explosive materials.

Nuclear Explosive Bays

The buildings in this part of the Plant are part of the production area and are within the Material Access Area, or MAA. Here bays provide areas for weapons assembly, disassembly, examination, testing, packaging and staging of component parts. These bays are designed as nuclear explosive facilities and can process encased components that contain hazardous material including plutonium. Operations permitted in the Nuclear Explosive Bays include the complete assembly/disassembly of nuclear weapons containing insensitive high explosives, the partial assembly/disassembly of weapons containing high explosives and the testing or staging of tritium reservoirs.

Nuclear Explosive Cells

The Cells are part of the production area of Zone 12 and are located inside the MAA in buildings totaling 73,000 square feet. In Zone 12 there are also special purpose buildings totaling approximately 95,000 square feet that provide testing or support facilities for weapons and weapons components that contain special nuclear material.

Nuclear Staging Facilities

Pit vaults and bays are part of the production area of Zone 12 and are located inside the MAA. They provide temporary staging for weapon components that contain special nuclear materials such as pits, Oak Ridge ordnance (ORO) items, radioisotopic thermoelectric generators (RTGs), and tritium reservoirs.

Explosives Development

Eleven buildings in Zones 11 and 12 have historically been used to develop and test new high explosives and are now used for surveillance support. These buildings total 90,500 square feet and include chemical laboratories, a gas analysis laboratory, a metrology laboratory, a stockpile system testing laboratory, environmental laboratories, and radiation monitoring laboratories.

Explosives Manufacturing

Buildings in Zone 11 totaling 113,450 square feet were constructed to manufacture the main HE charges used in nuclear weapons and to conduct HE research and development.

Explosives Staging

There are 46 structures used to store and stage all types of HE and IHE. These facilities encompass an area of approximately 63,300 square feet.

Testing and Evaluation

Key facilities for testing and evaluation of both HE and IHE, including test firing of explosives and non-destructive evaluation of explosives, total approximately 68,200 square.

Nuclear Staging Facilities

Storage magazines are located in the western part of Zone 4 near the center of the Plant in the material access area (MAA). These magazines were originally built for storing conventional munitions but are now used as interim storage of complete nuclear weapon assemblies, weapons components and other material. The total storage area is 71,362 square feet.

Firing Sites

The active firing sites each cover 15 to 20 acres and consist of a reinforced structure for control and an area surrounded by an earthen berm for conducting the test shot.

The Sandia Weapons Evaluation Test Laboratory (WETL)

Located at Pantex since 1966 WETL evaluates weapon subsystems to support detection of defects in the stockpile.

Footprint at Pantex

Many of the buildings at Pantex are between 30 and 60 years old and were designed prior to the current mission. Although the total site footprint has remained near 3 million square feet, NNSA has eliminated 219,467 square feet and added 215,233 square feet since 2002. The agency has plans to add 131,768 square feet over the next four years.

Pantex in NNSA’s “Complex Transformation”

The NNSA's Complex Transformation plan calls for continued use of Pantex for warhead assembly and disassembly and adds some surveillance work now done at Lawrence Livermore. Pantex will be designated the Center of Excellence for Assembly/Disassembly of nuclear weapons and for High Explosives Production and Machining. The security perimeter will be reduced by 45% and the total building footprint will be dropped 25%. It is expected the staff will be reduced between 5% and 10%.

Several new facilities will be constructed. One, an underground facility for storage of plutonium pits, is intended to reduce storage costs. A new Weapons Surveillance facility would be constructed to supplement the existing WETL and will be used for non-destructive weapon and pit surveillance.

Also proposed are two new non-nuclear facilities.  One, for High Explosive Component Fabrication and Qualification is intended to replace current facilities that are World War II vintage. The current space in use for HE fabrication, at about 40,000 square feet, is larger than is required to support operations.  These operations are inefficiently scattered through Zone 11. The proposed 32,000 square foot facility would reduce the explosive manufacturing footprint. The second facility would provide a new high explosive pressing facility for weapon main charges. This is intended to support the workload NNSA projects for the W76 LEP and other LEPs, including the W78 and W88, for the next 10 years.




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