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Workers Taped Together Explosive Pieces (Pantex Nuclear Plant)
AP/Yahoo ^ | 1-23-2004 | Matt Kelley

Posted on 01/23/2004 8:17:12 PM PST by blam

Workers Taped Together Explosive Pieces

By MATT KELLEY, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON - Workers at the only U.S. factory for dismantling nuclear weapons risked an explosion this month by taping together broken pieces of high explosive being removed from the plutonium trigger of an old warhead, federal investigators said.

The unorthodox handling of the unstable explosive increased the risk that the technicians would drop it and set off a "violent reaction," the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board said Tuesday in a letter to Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham (news - web sites).

Such a reaction could have "potentially unacceptable consequences," board chairman John T. Conway said in the letter, which raised disquieting questions about safety at the Energy Department's Pantex nuclear weapons plant near Amarillo, Texas.

No one was hurt and nothing exploded.

However, the National Nuclear Security Administration, which oversees the Energy Department's nuclear weapons programs, is investigating, spokesman Bryan Wilkes said Friday.

"Safety remains a priority for us," Wilkes said. "We are working to address the issues in the letter."

Conway's letter did not make clear whether the explosive had been separated at the time from the softball-sized chunk of plutonium that forms the "pit," or trigger, of a thermonuclear warhead. To prevent a thermonuclear blast, the pit would have to have been separated from the larger warhead.

But if the explosive were still connected to the trigger, an explosion could have injured or killed workers, and could have spread plutonium or other radioactive materials around the facility.

The taping and removal of the explosive did not go as planned, and only quick thinking by the technicians prevented them from dropping the explosive, Conway wrote.

Conway said that taping the explosives together was just one of several mistakes made by Pantex officials that risked an explosion. Pantex officials also downplayed the risk, Conway noted, calling the cracks in the explosive and the fact that workers taped it together a "trivial" change in procedures.

Jud Simmons, a spokesman for Pantex plant operator BWX Technologies Inc., did not return telephone messages on Friday.

The problem occurred when workers were dismantling the plutonium "pit" from a nuclear warhead. The pit is the sphere of plutonium metal surrounded by explosives. When those explosives detonate, the plutonium is compressed, causing a nuclear explosion. In a thermonuclear weapon, that explosion sets off an even stronger nuclear blast.

Workers found the explosives around the pit were cracked, making them more unstable and easier to detonate, Conway wrote. Their solution was to tape together the cracked explosives and move them to another location.

In his letter, Conway said problems with that included:

_ Failing to consult the explosives' manufacturer to determine how unstable the cracked explosives might be;

_ Performing an incomplete and inadequate safety review before going ahead;

_ Allowing workers to perform the taping and removal without practicing on a mock-up;

_ Failing to have experts who had developed the procedure watch the taping and removal to try to spot any problems.

Conway's letter does not elaborate on what might have happened if the explosive had detonated.

About 250,000 people live within 50 miles of the Pantex plant.

The Nuclear Facilities Safety Board has an inspector stationed at the Pantex plant and at the nation's other nuclear weapons sites. Weekly reports by that inspector, William White, show several concerns with safety at the plant, including flaws in the software designed to control the movement of nuclear and explosive materials around the site.

White reported in October that Pantex technicians had made a mistake while dismantling a W62 warhead from a Minuteman missile. A drill damaged part of the warhead's nuclear core, prompting officials to evacuate the facility until experts determined that no radiation had leaked, White wrote.


TOPICS: News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: 200310; billwhite; explosive; pantex; pieces; plutonium; taped; texas; williamwhite; wmds; workers
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1 posted on 01/23/2004 8:17:13 PM PST by blam
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To: Squantos
What's going on out there...?
2 posted on 01/23/2004 8:17:54 PM PST by blam
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To: blam
The mind wonders what "potentially unacceptable consequences," are in a nuclear bomb facility!!

Talk about understatement of the year!
3 posted on 01/23/2004 8:19:57 PM PST by Jonathan
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To: blam
Can't we shoot people that are this stupid?
4 posted on 01/23/2004 8:20:59 PM PST by DMCA (TITLE 17 Chapter 1 Sec 107)
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To: DMCA
Can't we shoot people that are this stupid?

No need. They'll eventually kill themselves...

;^)

5 posted on 01/23/2004 8:23:51 PM PST by null and void (Just because you don't have vision, don't believe our enemies don't. 2004 American_Centurion)
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To: blam
No big deal. Explosives used in nuclear devices are quite stable. They didn't hurt a thing.
6 posted on 01/23/2004 8:24:07 PM PST by U S Army EOD (Volunteer for EOD and you will never have to worry about getting wounded.)
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To: blam
"Pantex officials also downplayed the risk, Conway noted, calling the cracks in the explosive and the fact that workers taped it together a "trivial" change in procedures.

There is nothing "trivial" about the handling of explosive in a plant that's dismantling Nuclear Weapons. Look for a small rise in the unemployment rate next week

7 posted on 01/23/2004 8:26:07 PM PST by MJY1288 (WITHOUT DOUBLE STANDARDS, LIBERALS WOULDN'T HAVE ANY !)
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To: blam
By taping the explosives, it would secure them so they didn't rub against anything. Tape is also a good way of removing small explosive particles or dust from a device.
8 posted on 01/23/2004 8:26:20 PM PST by U S Army EOD (Volunteer for EOD and you will never have to worry about getting wounded.)
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To: U S Army EOD
LOL
9 posted on 01/23/2004 8:26:42 PM PST by MJY1288 (WITHOUT DOUBLE STANDARDS, LIBERALS WOULDN'T HAVE ANY !)
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To: U S Army EOD; Squantos
Typical overheated prose by moron reporters who don't know black powerder from TNT.
10 posted on 01/23/2004 8:26:47 PM PST by Travis McGee (----- www.EnemiesForeignAndDomestic.com -----)
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To: blam
only quick thinking by the technicians prevented them from dropping the explosive........... Professionalism and attention to detail as always .

Stay Safe !

11 posted on 01/23/2004 8:27:52 PM PST by Squantos (Salmon...the other pink meat !)
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To: MJY1288
Actually it was probably a good decision on their part to secure the explosives
12 posted on 01/23/2004 8:28:01 PM PST by U S Army EOD (Volunteer for EOD and you will never have to worry about getting wounded.)
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To: blam
Conway's letter does not elaborate on what might have happened if the explosive had detonated. LOL
13 posted on 01/23/2004 8:28:18 PM PST by flying Elvis
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To: Squantos
If people only knew some of the things we have done.
14 posted on 01/23/2004 8:29:39 PM PST by U S Army EOD (Volunteer for EOD and you will never have to worry about getting wounded.)
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To: null and void
The are working with Nuclear Weapons this gives the the capability to kill quite a lot of people along with themselves.
15 posted on 01/23/2004 8:31:40 PM PST by DMCA (TITLE 17 Chapter 1 Sec 107)
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To: flying Elvis
Basically not very much. It would have killed the guys next to it and the pit would have been blown around a bit but it would be a long way from the end of the world. Everything would have been contained in the facility.

We have had quite a few nukes come to earth inside of burning B52's, B47's, B58's and a few cargo planes. We are still here and the mess was cleaned up.
16 posted on 01/23/2004 8:34:12 PM PST by U S Army EOD (Volunteer for EOD and you will never have to worry about getting wounded.)
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To: DMCA
Not really.
17 posted on 01/23/2004 8:35:20 PM PST by U S Army EOD (Volunteer for EOD and you will never have to worry about getting wounded.)
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To: U S Army EOD
Well, You should be the one to know, I thought you were being sarcastic :-)

It sounded serious to me, explosives that could become unstable around softball sized balls of Weapons grade Plutonium would bring on the pucker factor for me :-)

18 posted on 01/23/2004 8:35:48 PM PST by MJY1288 (WITHOUT DOUBLE STANDARDS, LIBERALS WOULDN'T HAVE ANY !)
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To: blam
bttt
19 posted on 01/23/2004 8:35:48 PM PST by flutters (God Bless The USA)
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To: blam
Used to report/anchor in Amarillo. There would be "little" accidents at least once a year.

In addition, security agents would try to penetrate the plant. Would get in, or get "something" out about once a year as well. Onetime they loaded an entire "something" on a forklift and drove it out of building. Set off detectors, but the testers convinced guards it was the forklift itself, not the device. Idiots.

Security was PRIVATE, by Wakinutt (SP?)

They did have one interesting area, though. To get in there, you had to sign paper that said, if you were detected doing something wrong, you would be given one minute to surrender and come out. After that, the SWAT team would enter the area and kill you, even if you tried (after the one minute) to surrender!

You had to sign notice to that effect to access area.

It got your attention.
20 posted on 01/23/2004 8:36:22 PM PST by MindBender26 (For more news as it happens, stay tuned to your local FReeper Network station !!!)
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