The contractor that manages a Texas nuclear-weapons facility has received a government warning over multiple recent incidents that posed safety hazards.
In an April 17 letter to the president of B&W Pantex, the U.S. Energy Department listed six safety incidents that occurred since August 2012 at the atomic-arms assembly and disassembly plant northeast of Amarillo, the Amarillo Globe-News reported on Thursday.
John Boulden, head of enforcement and oversight for the department's Office of Health, Safety and Security, said the "events are significant in that they involved improper management, handling or labeling of highly hazardous materials, including explosives, which have the potential to cause serious injury or death."
The incidents include a July 2012 occurrence in which powerful blast explosives and a detonating cord were found in a [weapons] bay that was not cleared to store such sensitive substances. In a March 2013 incident, plant workers wrapping up two items filled with special atomic substances put the wrong identifying codes on their containers, which could have resulted in the materials being handled in a way inconsistent with the safety risks they posed, according to Boulden.
His office decided not to levy any financial penalties against B&W Pantex, but told the contractor it would be watching to ensure that sensitive materials are appropriately identified and handled. B&W Pantex has not received any fines for workplace safety concerns since it began managing the Texas weapons facility in 2001.
The conglomerate that makes up B&W Pantex includes Bechtel and Babcock & Wilcox. That management partnership will soon end. The Energy Department has awarded the contract to manage the Pantex plant -- as well as the Y-12 weapons site in Tennessee -- to Consolidated Nuclear Security, a consortium that includes Bechtel National and Lockheed Martin.
B&W Pantex officials declined to comment on the safety violations.
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