The Pantex Plant is a government-owned, contractor-operated nuclear weapons assembly/disassembly facility that also manufactures High Explosive (HE) components. The facility is located 17 miles northeast of Amarillo, Texas in Carson County, on approximately 16,000 acres (about 25 square miles). The DOE owns the northern 10,177 acres, 9,100 acres at Pantex Plant proper and 1,077 acres of detached property called Pantex Lake, approximately 2.5 miles northeast of the main plant site. An additional 5,800-5,900 acres of land south of the main Plant area, between the Plant and U.S. Highway 60, is leased from Texas Tech University for use as a safety and security buffer zone. Land not actively used for Pantex operations is managed, under a service agreement, by Texas Tech Agriculture Research operations for farming and grazing activities. The majority of Plant operations are conducted on about 2,000 acres. Farm-to-Market roads border Pantex to the north, east, and west.
Pantex has about 700 buildings, including specialized facilities called Cells and Bays in which maintenance, modification, disassembly and assembly operations are conducted. Pantex has about Previous estimates were 640 buildings covering almost 3 million square feet, 55 miles of paved roads, 60 miles of fences, and 17,000 pieces of Plant equipment; 660 buildings containing approximately 2,900,000 gross feet, including roughly 64,000 gross feet under construction; and before that 730 buildings on approximately 3,010,0000 gross square feet (gsf). Plant facilities were divided into several broad categories: production/laboratory (90 Buildings and 915,000 gsf), storage (235 Buildings, 680,000 gsf), administrative (160 Buildings, 715,000 gsf), support (230 Buildings, 635,000 gsf), and safe shutdown (15 Buildings, 65,000 gsf).
Pantex is composed of several functional areas, commonly referred to as numbered zones. These zones include a weapons assembly/disassembly area (Zone 12), a weapons staging area (Zone 4), an area for experimental explosive development (Zone 11), a drinking water treatment plant (Zone 15), a sanitary waste water treatment facility (Zone 13), and vehicle maintenance and administrative areas (Zone 16). Other functional areas include an explosive test- firing facility, a burning ground for explosive materials, and an area of landfills north of Zone 10; Zone 10 is currently used only for storage.
Pantex is managed and operated by Babcock & Wilcox Technical Services Pantex, LLC (B&W Pantex), an independent company formed solely to manage the Pantex plant, for the DOE/National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). The NNSA Pantex Site Office (PXSO) is responsible for oversight. It was previously overseen by the DOE Albuquerque Operations Office and the Amarillo Area Office (AAO). Outside agencies with oversight responsibility at Pantex include the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the Texas Department of State Health Services Radiation Control Program and the Environmental Protection Agency.
The Pantex Plant is one of several production plants that are a part of the NNSA Stockpile Stewardship Program.
Pantex has five primary missions.
- 1. Evaluate, retrofit, and repair weapons in support of both life extension programs and certification of weapon safety and reliability
- 2. Dismantle weapons that are surplus to the strategic stockpile
- 3. Sanitize components from dismantled weapons
- 4. Develop, test, and fabricate high explosive components
- 5. Provide interim storage and surveillance of plutonium pits
Previously, the assembly of nuclear weapons was also listed at one of Pantex's primary missions. Weapons disassembly, and stockpile surveillance activities involve short-term handling (but not processing) of uranium, plutonium, and tritium, as well as a variety of non-radioactive hazardous or toxic chemicals. Nuclear weapons disassembly is a technically precise process. Each part that is removed from a disassembled weapon receives a careful security and environmental screening before being disposed of. Weapons parts containing nuclear materials come to Pantex as encapsulated components.
In the late 1990s, the DOE assigned all dismantlement activities to the Pantex Plant. Pantex was to dismantle weapons on a schedule of up to 2,000 per year until the stockpile was reduced to a predetermined number. It was estimated that dismantlement should be completed by 2004.
Pantex is in the process of decontaminating structures no longer needed to support its missions. These structures may include production, administrative or testing facilities. Decommissioning of production and test facilities has the complication of the possibility of mixed (hazardous and radioactive) contamination. Pantex tested two competing technologies for decontamination of surfaces: Steel Grit Blasting and Crushed Safety Glass Blasting. The glass media blasting technology proved superior to the steel grit blast technology from an environmental standpoint. The assessment showed an almost across the board factor of 5.7 times fewer environmental burdens for the glass media blasting compared to the same criteria for steel grit blasting. As of April 2007, Pantex has demolished 112 structures encompassing an estimated 398,000 square feet.
Pantex is part of Complex Transformation, a NNSA program for a smaller, safer, more secure, and less expansive nuclear weapons complex to replace the standing complex that is believed to be too old with too many facilities. Under this program, Pantex will be designated the Center of Excellence for Assembly/Disassembly of nuclear weapons and the Center of Excellence for High Explosives (HE) Production & Machining. The total building footprint will be reduced by 25%, the security perimeter by 45%, and the staff by between 5% and 10%. The storage thousands of plutonium weapon cores will be consolidate at a new underground storage facility to be located at Zone 12, where warheads are currently disassembled, from Zone 4. Two other new facilities that would be constructed under this program include a nigh-explosives pressing operations and a Weapons Surveillance Facility (WSF). The WSF would supplement the existing Weapons Engineering and Testing Lab (WETL), which is used for non-destructive weapon and pit surveillance.
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