Pantex Nuclear-Weapons Contractor Warned Over Safety Hazards

Global Security Newswire Staff
April 25, 2014, 9:44 a.m.

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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