Skip to comments.Watchdog: Firm nearly detonated nuke bomb (1.2 megaton bomb near Amarillo)
Posted on 12/16/2006 7:11:23 PM PST by LibWhacker
WASHINGTON An accident that occurred as a decades-old nuclear warhead was being dismantled at the government's Pantex facility near Amarillo, Texas, could have caused the device to detonate, a nonprofit organization charged Thursday.
The Project on Government Oversight said the "near miss" event, which led the Energy Department to fine the plant's operator $110,000, was due partly to requirements that technicians at the plant work up to 72 hours per week.
The Pantex plant, 17 miles northeast of Amarillo, is the country's only factory for assembly and disassembly of nuclear weapons.
The organization said it was told by unidentified experts who were "knowledgeable about this event" that the accident, in which an unsafe amount of pressure was applied to the warhead, could have caused the device to detonate.
The oversight project also released an anonymous letter, purportedly sent by Pantex employees, warning that long hours and efforts to increase output were causing dangerous conditions in the plant.
In a two-paragraph statement, BWX Technologies, the company that operates the Amarillo facility under a contract with the Energy Department, said it "takes seriously any employee concerns about safe operations" and was comparing statements in the anonymous letter "with the reality of day-to-day work."
BWX spokeswoman Erin Ritter declined to comment beyond the statement.
Julianne Smith, a spokeswoman for the Energy Department, which owns the Pantex plant, declined to respond to safety complaints outlined in a letter from oversight project Executive Director Danielle Brian to Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman.
However, records show that the department last month fined BWX $110,000 for the accident and another event involving the same warhead.
In a letter to Dan J. Swaim, BWX general manger of the plant, the Energy Department said the company had "significantly delayed" disclosing the incidents and then submitted a "factually inaccurate and incomplete" report.
The letter, signed by Linton Brooks, head of the National Nuclear Security Administration, did not say the incidents could have caused a nuclear detonation or what kind of warhead was being dismantled when they occurred.
It said that during three separate unsuccessful attempts to dismantle the warhead in March and April of last year, workers applied too much pressure to the device and a safety mechanism failed to work.
Oversight project investigator Peter Stockton, a former Energy Department official, said the device was a W56 warhead, with a yield of 1,200 kilotons, 100 times the destructive power of the Hiroshima bomb.
If it was "decades old", chances are that it would have been a dirty bomb and not a nuclear explosion.
Still not good if true especially if you're one of the techs doing the dismantling.
Well, I certainly hope that's not true, or at the very least misinformation.
Nope, Pantex is the only one left. You can thank Bill Clinton for that.
Just for reference, the W-56 was the warhead carried by the Minuteman I and Minuteman II ICBMs.
Obviously the liner notes were not detailed enough.
Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.
I suppose one could make the case that this is the worlds biggest handgrenade.
It's true alright,they in fact are the only facility doing this work at the present time.
"Pantex"... that's some woman-thing, right?
If they're shorthanded I'm sure they could find lots of willing applicants in the mideast. I bet they'll even work cheap.
I claim BS! You cannot detonate a nuclear weapon with a chain reaction explosion using any sort of mechanical force. You can blow it up with another nuke and it will not set off a nuclear explosion. You can burn it, you can blow it up, you can run over it with a train and it will not explode with other than he non-nuclear high explosive in the weapon.
Last Cold War-era W56 warhead dismantled
June 30, 2006
(For personal use only)
The Minuteman missile was a hallmark of America's defenses during the Cold War.
The Energy Department said Thursday it has completed dismantling the last W56 warhead that for 30 years, beginning in the early 1960s, was the deadly core of the Minuteman I, and later the updated Minuteman II long-range missile.
I know these guys. They are an extreme left anti-military group that opposes all weapons (nuc and conventional) and all defense spending.
For example, they oppose the Osprey tiltrotor, and say we should buy more helicopters... but they oppose helicopters too. They'd let us use sticks and stones if we could do it without disturbing the environment.
They work closely with another misleadingly-named crank group, the "Center for Defense Information," which was a Soviet-controlled front organization during the 1980s. I don't know if external enemies run POGO, or just homegrown ones.
Criminal Number 18F
"The organization said it was told by unidentified experts who were "knowledgeable about this event" that the accident, in which an unsafe amount of pressure was applied to the warhead, could have caused the device to detonate."
I am extremely skeptical about a decommissioned warhead going off in such circumstances. Arming codes with redundancies, last minute initiator settings, dial-in tritium boosters etc. Just doesn't seem likely that a nuke salvage and abatement team would find themselves in such a situation.
I agree... also there seems to be a security leak...
I agree... also there seems to be a security leak...
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