The Time a Warhead Nearly Exploded Near Amarillo at Pantex
Have you ever entertained the hypothetical question " What would happen if Pantex were to explode?" It's a scary thought, right. Giant balls of fire in the distance, mushroom clouds, radiation spread throughout miles. The effects would be devastating for the Texas Panhandle if this were to happen. Well, according to reports by The United States Department of Energy and The Project on Government Oversight (POGO) done in 2006, this could of happened.
In March of 2005, Pantex disassembly teams were working on a W-56 warhead; a bomb with explosive power 100 times that of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. According to an independent investigation done by POGO, technicians working over 70 hour work weeks had used a faulty tool on the warhead, putting far too much pressure on the warhead than what is safe. This almost caused the warhead to explode.
Some time before this incident, an anonymous complaint letter was sent to BWX Technologies Inc. who worked under contract with the Department of Energy. The complaint detailed engineers having to work over 70 hour work weeks in order to meet tight decommissioning schedules and characterized the need for renovations and repairs in some areas. The Department of Energy, shortly after, began an investigation which resulted in Pantex receiving a $110,000 fine.
Although both of these troubling stories about Pantex emerged within a relatively short period of time, the Department of Energy stated that it had "confidence that Pantex will continue its outstanding work, while keeping stringent safety and security policies in place." Some time after this the fine was levied and Pantex resumed to normal operations. In later letters sent to the Department of Energy, POGO complained about the "laxity" of the investigations conducted.
Although this happened 17 years ago, it is scary to think that Pantex, and parts of the Panhandle could of been wiped off the map. This incident thankfully did not end horribly, but it remained unknown to the public until the Department of Energy's investigation, which did not give Pantex much punishment for its laxity in this situation. Hopefully in all the years leading up to now safety procedures are much better than they were in the situation leading up to this incident. The fate of Amarillo quite literally lies in it.
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