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PX - Pantex Plant
Although there have been no completely new weapon designs assembled since 1991, technicians at Pantex continue to disassemble and reassemble existing weapons in connection with NNSA programs to evaluate, repair, modify, and certify them.
Major Facilities at Pantex
Many of Pantex's buildings are between 30 and 60 years old and were designed prior to the current mission. Although there have been new facilities constructed, the total site footprint has remained near 3 million sq-ft.
Pantex has several numbered functional areas. Zone 12 is the weapons assembly/disassembly area. Operations in its 'Nuclear Explosive Bays' include the complete assembly/disassembly of nuclear weapons containing insensitive high explosives (IHE), the partial assembly/disassembly of weapons containing conventional high explosives (HE) and the testing and storage of tritium reservoirs. 'Nuclear Explosive Cells' provide testing or support facilities for weapons and weapons components that contain special nuclear material. Also in Zone 12 are 'Pit Vaults' that provide temporary staging for weapon components that contain radioactive or special nuclear materials such as plutonium pits, canned subassemblies (the nuclear weapons 'secondaries'), radioisotopic thermoelectric generators, and tritium reservoirs.
Zone 11 has 'Explosives Manufacturing' buildings totaling 113,450 sq-ft that are used to produce the main HE charges for nuclear weapons and to conduct HE research and development. There are also 46 Explosives Staging structures used to store all types of HE and IHE, occupying approximately 63,300 square feet. 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 feet.
The 'Nuclear Staging Facilities' storage magazines are located in the western part of Zone 4. These magazines, originally built for storing conventional munitions, are now used for interim storage of complete nuclear weapons, weapons components and other material. The total storage area is 71,362 square feet. There are also other functional areas in Zone 4 such as an explosives test firing facility and a burning ground for disposing of explosive materials.
The 'Weapons Evaluation Test Laboratory' (WETL), operated by the Sandia Labs, has been located at Pantex since 1966. WETL evaluates weapon subsystems in a laboratory environment in order to detect potential defects in stockpiled weapons.
At the 'Special Nuclear Material Requalification Facility' NNSA plans to use non-intrusive processes to re-certify up to 350 plutonium pits for reuse annually, some of which may be modified before being returned to the stockpile. The Plant itself has boasted how pit reuse is much less expensive and environmentally damaging than the production of new pits.
Pantex in NNSA’s “Complex Transformation”
NNSA's Complex Transformation plan calls for continued use of Pantex for warhead assembly and disassembly and adds some non-destructive surveillance work now done at LLNL. Pantex is also to be the "Center of Excellence" for high explosives production and machining. Category I/II SNM are to be consolidated to Zone 12 so Zone 4 can be closed. NNSA plans to reduce Pantex's security perimeter by 45% and the total building footprint by 25%. NNSA projects that the Plant's workforce level will be reduced by 5% to 10% over the next decade.
NNSA proposes to construct several new facilities at Pantex. A new underground storage facility for plutonium pits is intended to improve security and reduce costs. A new Weapons Surveillance facility for non-destructive weapon and pit surveillance is planned to supplement the existing WETL. In addition, the High Explosive Component Fabrication and Qualification Facility would replace World War II-era facilities. Finally, a new high explosive pressing facility would support the projected workload for the ongoing W76 LEP and pending LEPs (the W78 and W88) over the next 10 years.
Source: Transforming the U.S. Strategic Posture and Weapons Complex For Transition to a Nuclear Weapons-Free World, Nuclear Weapons Complex Consolidation Policy Network, April 2009.
"Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about killing than we know about living. We have grasped the mystery of the atom and rejected the Sermon on the Mount."
-Gen. Omar Bradley
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