The Pantex Ordinance Plant was authorized on February 24, 1942, with construction being completed on November 15, 1942. It served as conventional bomb plant for the U.S. Army during the early days of World War II, from 1942 to 1945. Its mission was to load and pack conventional artillery shells and bombs. Certain Teed Products Corporation operated the facility. As were many war-era munitions plants, Pantex was deactivated after the war ended. It remained vacant until 1947, when Texas Technological College in Lubbock (now Texas Tech University) leased 8,000 acres. It then purchased the 16,031.9-acre site for one dollar in 1949. The land was sold by the War Assets Administration subject to recall under the National Security Clause. Texas Tech used the land for experimental cattle-feeding operations.
Pantex was formally established in 1951. At the request of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), now DOE, the Army exercised the recapture clause in the sale contract and reclaimed the main plant and 10,000 surrounding acres for use as a nuclear weapons assembly and production facility. The Army Ordnance Corps contracted with Mason & Hanger - Silas Mason Co., Inc, to begin rehabilitating portions of the original Plant and constructing new facilities. The company was awarded a $25 million contract to refurbish and expand the plant for nuclear weapons, high explosive and non-nuclear component assembly operations. (The replacement cost of this government-owned, contractor operated facility, including buildings, equipment, and real estate, was estimated at more than $3 billion in the late 1990s.) After construction, Procter & Gamble Defense Corporation was awarded the first five-year management and operating contract in 1951, but it declined to renew the contract. The contract was then awarded to Mason & Hanger, which operated and managed Pantex from October 1, 1956 through the end of the century.
By 1960, Pantex Plant was working on high explosives development for Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. In 1963, executive responsibility for the Plant was transferred from the Army to the AEC. The name of the site was officially changed to Pantex Plant on October 4, 1963.Between 1965 and 1975, the AEC consolidated weapons modification, assembly and high explosives missions at Pantex. The Amarillo Area Office of the DOE was established in 1965, the year that the Clarksville, Tennessee modification facility was closed. A year later, the Medina, Texas modification facility closed. And in 1975, the nuclear weapons operations at Pantex's sister plant at Burlington, Iowa, were transferred to Pantex. The consolidation of these operations left Pantex as the only plant in the United States where nuclear weapons are assembled and disassembled. Also in 1975, the AEC was abolished and the Energy Research and Development Administration (ERDA) took control of the plant. In 1977, DOE took control of the site when ERDA was abolished.
In 1989, the remaining 6,000 acres of the original site were leased from Texas Tech. This irrigated farmland serves as a safety and security buffer south and west of the Plant. Also in 1989, the DOE Rocky Flats Plant, located in Golden, Colorado, was deactivated as a plutonium processing center due to environmental concerns, urban encroachment, and protest by activist groups. The deactivation of Rocky Flats necessitated the interim storage of plutonium pits. Since no other DOE facility has the necessary storage, interim storage of the plutonium pits was proposed for Pantex. The Environmental Assessment (EA) was written for the interim storage that resulted in a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI), meaning that the proposed action would not cause significant impacts to the surrounding environment if implemented.
Thousands of weapons were assembled at Pantex during the Cold War with the last nuclear warhead completed in 1991. In the 1990s, the easing of political tensions marked a new era in international relations. The United States and the former Soviet Union began reducing their nuclear weapons stockpiles, and Pantex played a vital part in this operation. Since the close of the Cold War, Pantex has dismantled thousands of weapons retired from the stockpile. The resulting plutonium pits have been placed in interim storage. During this reduction effort, DOE continues to meet its commitment to safely disassemble and dispose of weapons returned from the Department of Defense. Disassembly and disposition operations at Pantex are conducted under the highest possible levels of safety and security. Protecting the environment and safeguarding human safety and health are of paramount importance to the people at Pantex, and the plant's management is committed to a policy of openness regarding these issues.
With the end of the Cold War, DOE has made major programmatic decisions that affect the current and future operation of the Pantex Plant. Presidential decisions and international treaties have required the Pantex Plant to dismantle a significant fraction of the Cold War nuclear weapons stockpile during the decade of the 1990s. Most significant for the future, DOE determined in the 1996 Record of Decision for the Stockpile Stewardship and Management Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement that the Pantex Plant would be the sole U.S. site for the maintenance, refurbishment, and eventual dismantlement of the future (smaller) U.S. nuclear weapon stockpile.
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