NNSA authorizes full-scale operations at the High Explosives Pressing Facility at Pantex Plant in Texas
WASHINGTON – The Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (DOE/NNSA) has authorized full-scale operations at the Pantex Plant’s High Explosives Pressing Facility (HEPF) in Amarillo, Texas, following extensive readiness reviews.
The Pantex Plant is the Nation’s primary facility for the final assembly, dismantlement, and maintenance of nuclear weapons. Replacement of high explosives in weapons is an important part of NNSA’s mission to maintain and extend the life of the U.S. nuclear stockpile.
“NNSA is modernizing the Nuclear Security Enterprise to face 21st century threats,” said Lisa E. Gordon-Hagerty, DOE Under Secretary for Nuclear Security and NNSA Administrator. “Our dedicated stewards of the nuclear deterrent at the Pantex Plant deserve this modern, safe infrastructure to accomplish our team’s national security missions.”
HEPF replaces existing machining and pressing facilities that are over 50 years old and consolidates operations to reduce the movement of high explosives within the plant, increasing employee safety and minimizing impact to other plant operations.
NNSA broke ground on the 45,000 square-foot, state-of-the-art facility in 2011. Managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers using a firm fixed price contract, construction was completed in 2017.
“Greening” information technology
Pantex continues to acquire electronics products that are environmentally sustainable. During FY 2018, approximately 95% of monitors, computers, televisions and other imaging systems purchases were products that met the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool criteria established by the Green Electronics Council. Nearly 100% of all computers and monitors save energy consumption by the use of power management tools.
Recycling to prevent waste
During FY 2018 Pantex recycling efforts resulted in the following quantities of waste shipped to various recycling companies:
Following the rules
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality conducted a waste site inspection of all hazardous and non-hazardous waste locations in accordance with the Annual Resource Conservation and Recovery Act including a records and permit review. This year’s inspection concluded no finding, weaknesses or observations making this the 24th consecutive annual RCRA waste site inspection with no violations.
Pantex continues to use digital technology (such as that used with the Radiography X-Ray machine used in the Pantex Occupational Medical Department) to eliminate the generation of silver contaminated film wastes and reduce annual waste generation. More than 1,000,000 metric tons of electronics equipment were disposed of through the use of certified recyclers or transferred or donated to other sites and/or educational institutions through various government programs. Accordingly, 99% of this type of equipment was not disposed of using landfills. In addition, more than 95% of all Pantex printers have duplex printing capabilities to save paper use.
Employing renewable energy
The Plant continues to use renewable energy-powered equipment such as solar-powered aerators in the wastewater lagoons, solar-powered lights at parking lots and solar-generated power to emergency notification towers. However, since the summer of 2014, the operation of the Pantex Renewable Energy Project or “wind farm” has allowed the Pantex site to consistently exceed DOE goals regarding the use of renewable energy and reduce energy-related greenhouse gas emissions.
Reducing energy intensity
Pantex has reduced energy intensity by 20 percent since 2015 primarily through the use of the Pantex Renewable Energy Project or “wind farm.” Energy intensity is the amount of energy used per square foot of plant’s foot print. By 2025, the goal is to reduce energy intensity by 25 percent from the 2015 baseline.
Conserving water resources
Water from a small aquifer beneath the Plant is pumped to the surface and treated to reduce contaminants. The water is then mixed with Pantex Wastewater Treatment Facility wastewater and beneficially reused to irrigate crops in the northeastern portion of Plant property. A similar use of the same water for “center-pivot” irrigations of a portion of the property east of FM-2373 is currently being investigated. In addition, Pantex has established several projects to reduce water consumption by eliminating where possible the use of “once-through” cooling systems.
Article by James D. Ray, Pantex Wildlife Biologist/Environmental Science Senior Specialist
In the early 1990s, I had the opportunity to affix coded tags to wings of dozens of monarch butterflies that volunteers and I captured during their southward migrations. My interest in these butterflies peaked again a few years later when Pantex Agronomist Monty Schoenhals impressed upon me to keep an eye on our local milkweeds for monarch caterpillars.
As both a beekeeper and a wildlife biologist, I have tuned in to increasing information that our populations of pollinators are suffering alarming rates of decline. A Presidential Memorandum released in 2014 led to the creation of a federal strategy to promote the health of pollinators, and this eventually filtered down to the Department of Energy-National Nuclear Security Administration Pantex Plant and other facilities within the DOE/NNSA complex.
Aeroecology - an area of technology that has long fascinated me - is the study of biota in the atmosphere using Nex Rad Weather Radar. The science is relatively new, but is developing rapidly, and is used for studies of insects, bats, and birds. During 2018, Pantex contracted with Dr. Jeffrey Kelly and the Aeroecology Group within the Plains Institute at the University of Oklahoma for research to evaluate whether Nex Rad Weather Radar could be used as a monitoring tool for the monarch butterfly and other pollinator species that migrate. I felt that since radar can detect tiny insects emerging from lakes and rivers, surely it could be used for some much needed monitoring of the declining monarch butterfly.
There are varieties of tools within radar technology that allow researchers to differentiate the shape of biota from that of raindrops, detect the heading of their flight, and even that they are compensating for the wind. Further analysis tools of radar aeroecology can estimate body size and population numbers within the sampling range of the radar for each scan. Preliminary results of our study look very encouraging. We recently shared our work at a conference in Texas, and we have submitted a proposal to give a presentation at a national level conference occurring in Reno, Nevada, this fall.
Declining populations of pollinators should be concerning to all of us because of the enormous benefits they provide to our society and ecosystems. It is the hope of Pantex, the University of Oklahoma, and the DOE-NNSA that this work result in a valuable monitoring tool that can be used amid many components that will likely be necessary to forward conservation efforts focusing on our declining pollinators.
Please feel free to share this link with others that enjoy wildlife or that appreciate entities that take great strides to contribute to wildlife conservation.
Photo 1. Monarch butterflies taking a rest on the DOE-NNSA Pantex Plant during their 2015 fall migration.
Photo 2. The blue in this radar image depicts what is estimated to be several million monarch butterflies passing over the Texas Panhandle on September 25, 2018.
Article by James D. Ray, Pantex Wildlife Biologist/Environmental Science Senior Specialist
One would think that I would come to a point sometime in my 30-year career where I could say that I had seen it all. Not me. Like everyone else I may have strong opinions and stances on some things but I remain committed to a “never say never” mind frame when it comes to wildlife. Pantex Agronomist Monty Schoenhals and I were once again in the “right place at the right time” and neither of us would have ever expected to witness a scene that unfolded in front of us one afternoon.
Monty and I were returning from a quick trip out to meet with a contact when we came upon a duck standing right in the middle of our side of the roadway. The duck flushed, and we pulled over to watch it. We wondered if it was healthy and would stay in the air. All of a sudden, a prairie falcon knocked it to the ground and landed on it. That is not something you see every day but, little did we know, the show was only going to get better! The falcon flushed without the duck after a few seconds and we would soon see a ferruginous hawk gliding straight for the duck laying on the ground. A second ferruginous hawk came flying in from another direction. The falcon would have no part of that and began harassing the two hawks that tried to defend themselves by rolling over with talons skyward and towards the attacking falcon.
One of the ferruginous hawks eventually went down and picked up the duck, but not before we saw a coyote bee-lining towards the duck from several hundred yards to the west. The fighting of the three birds of prey had drawn the coyote’s attention and he was sprinting towards the commotion.
One of the two ferruginous hawks landed and lifted off with the duck but dropped it under the relentless attacks of the prairie falcon. By that time, the coyote was near, and he slowed to a trot, grabbed the duck, and trotted off in the same direction he had come from. You will never convince me that this coyote had not had previous experience with this scenario of obtaining an easy meal.
The ferruginous hawk and prairie falcon are among the 202 species of birds that staff and collaborators have documented at the U. S. Department of Energy/National Nuclear Security Pantex Plant. Both species are commonly observed in the region during the fall, winter, and spring seasons. A mere sighting of these birds is rewarding, and each piece of the scene that unfolded in front of us—the capture of the duck, the fighting between the two species, and the almost nonchalant securing of the meal by the coyote—would be considered exciting by anyone fortunate enough to have witnessed.
Please feel free to share this link with others who enjoy wildlife or appreciate entities that take great strides to contribute to wildlife conservation.
Photo 1. One of the many residents of the Pantex Property, this coyote was photographed during a recent study on bobcats conducted by Pantex and West Texas A&M University.
The National Weather Service (NWS) recently recertified the Pantex Plant (Pantex) as a StormReady community.
StormReady is a program that aims to mitigate the loss of life and property related to severe weather, and there are multiple requirements necessary to receive a StormReady designation.
“It requires that Pantex plan for and train our personnel on a number of severe weather-related events, mostly focused toward severe thunderstorms and tornados,” Pantex Emergency Preparedness Specialist Brian Veach said. “We also had to conduct training and drills as well as provide procedures and briefings to the site personnel.”
In addition, Pantex was required to demonstrate multiple methods to receive severe weather watches/warnings and had to show that there were procedures in place to communicate required protective actions to the plant population.
This designation is usually only sought by a city or county as very few companies have the resources and dedication to undertake the process. Because safety is a priority for Pantex, this designation demonstrates that commitment.
“Our drills and exercise program go above and beyond what the Department of Energy requires and really stress severe weather,” Veach said. “It’s not just the large site-wide drills or exercises, but we also run a number of facility-based shelter for severe weather drills.”
In addition to drills, Pantex also offers classes instructed by the NWS on severe weather storm spotting to all Emergency Management Department (EMD), Fire Department, Fire Department Support Team, and building/floor wardens.
Personnel from EMD also visited the local NWS office in Amarillo to increase cooperation and understanding of what information and services could be provided to Pantex.
“We participate in their Weather Ready Nation Ambassador program as well, which means we receive emails from the NWS with seasonal weather information and share that with our personnel on the site,” Veach said. “This helps increase the overall weather knowledge of the entire plant population.”
Part of the process to recertify included personnel attending a severe storm spotting class that trains personnel to recognize severe storm characteristics and report them accurately to the NWS in Amarillo.
Veach said management is committed to keeping personnel safe not only at work, but also at home.
“The information the company provides in training for severe weather is just as applicable at home as it is at work,” he said. “I can carry the skills and knowledge I’ve gained from work to my home, and that helps make my family safer.”
He continued by saying that people are Pantex’s #1 asset, and keeping everyone safe is vitally important to the site mission.
“Knowing how to remain safe when, not if, severe weather affects the plant means we have the skilled, trained, and dedicated personnel to continue our critical national security mission,” Veach said.
Personnel from Emergency Services and the Building Warden Program assisted Emergency Management in accomplishing this recertification.
“The building wardens are an essential part to this,” Veach said. “Emergency Management, and the larger Emergency Services Organization, cannot be everywhere when severe weather arrives. Having the highly skilled wardens available that can extend the reach of Emergency Management helps ensure everyone on the site is taken care of and remains safe.”
Veach also said the Plant Shift Superintendents are the first line of protection in severe weather.
“Those unseen heroes make regular contact with the National Weather Service to keep us all safe,” Veach said. “They play a major role in the site receiving severe weather notifications and directing the appropriate protective actions.”
Pantex was originally designated as StormReady in October 2015, and this was the site’s first full renewal in the program. Pantex was required to go through the entire recertification process, including a visit from the local StormReady board.
“The renewal process requires us to re-demonstrate this commitment to them at three-year intervals, with a spot check halfway through,” Veach said. “StormReady is not a once-and-done thing but a culture that exists on the site thanks to the hard work of a number of personnel including Emergency Services, Emergency Management, and all of our wardens.”