Pantex Nuclear Weapons Facility
Pantex Plant is America's only nuclear weapons assembly and disassembly facility. Located on the High Plains of the Texas Panhandle, 17 miles northeast of Amarillo, Pantex is centered on a 16,000-acre site just north of U. S. Highway 60 in Carson County.
The plant began in 1942 as an Army Ordinance Corps facility. The Department of Energy (DOE) began nuclear operations in 1950.
Pantex Plant is a U.S. DOE facility operated by contractor BWXT Pantex and Sandia National Laboratory. The Department of Energy/National Nuclear Security Administration (DOE/NNSA) is the onsite DOE presence responsible for directing Plant operations. DOE's Pantex Site Office is responsible for the successful accomplishment of DOE missions assigned to the Plant; provides program management; and is accountable for critical functional areas that could affect the security, health, safety, and welfare of the general public.
The area surrounding the Pantex site is primarily agricultural. The facility occupies approximately 16,000 acres with approximately 10,000 of the total owned by the U.S. Department of Energy and 6,000 acres leased from Texas Tech University. The acreage leased from Texas Tech University serves as a buffer zone for site safety and security.
The major operations conducted at Pantex Plant are:
- Maintenance, modification, and evaluation of nuclear weapons to improve safety and reliability, or to incorporate new technology.
- Dismantlement of nuclear weapons being retired from the national stockpile.
- Interim storage of components containing plutonium.
- Assembly of nuclear weapons, particularly joint test assemblies used in non-nuclear tests.
- Develop and research the high explosives that surround the nuclear components of weapons.
Plant activities involve the handling of significant quantities of uranium, plutonium, and tritium, as well as a variety of non-radioactive toxic and explosive chemicals.
Radiation Control Program (RCP) Role
The Texas RCP has an emergency plan that is used by a team of State agencies to respond to any radiological emergency at Pantex. Additionally, the State of Texas monitors the environment surrounding the Pantex plant. An Agreement in Principle between the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the State of Texas is used to provide technical and financial support to the State agencies and local governments responsible for environmental management, monitoring, and emergency preparedness planning at the DOE Pantex facility. The State prepares and trains for emergencies in order to protect the public and the environment.
In the event of an emergency, under the direction of the Chief of Field Operations, the DSHS Radiation Control Program provides:
- Emergency operations coordinators
- Health physicists who assess any accidents to determine what protection is necessary for the public
- Public information specialists
- Administrative support
- Field monitoring teams
- Liaisons to work with medical facilities
- Staff to advise about contamination control at roadblocks and reception centers