Article by Jim Ray, Pantex Wildlife Biologist/Scientist
When upper level management visits your facility and wants a tour and an overview of your program, you certainly hope you are prepared and can show him or her some wildlife when you are out-and-about. Such was the case, recently, and our tour could not have gone much better.
We left my building around 8:30 a.m. and proceeded to a location where bobcats had been observed the previous day. The one minute drive resulted in the sightings of two bobcats, at least one of them a juvenile. The cats quickly ducked into cover, but, regardless it was a great start to the day.
Next, we proceeded to more outlying areas where I was able to show him areas of shortgrass prairie and playa wetlands, the plastic devices we have placed on more than 500 utility-line poles to protect birds-of-prey from electrocution, and the towers containing recording equipment that monitors bat activity as part of our wind energy research. As we drove across a pasture known as the Playa 2 Playa Management Unit, we observed a couple of pairs of burrowing owls. Pantex and collaborators have conducted a lot of work on these owls and the black-tailed prairie dogs they depend on, so I was elated that my guest was able to see them.
Next, we proceeded alongside of a shrub planting that serves as a “living visual barrier” to slow the spread of prairie dogs across our property line. I was just explaining to my guest that the two shrubs that comprise the planting – four-winged saltbush and aromatic sumac—are fantastic deer foods, when up stood a nice-looking mule deer buck and two does. Being the third of April, this was probably the latest that I had observed a mule deer with retained antlers from the previous year. Moments later, we added a pronghorn buck to our morning’s list of good finds.
Perhaps the morning’s most interesting observation was watching a falcon chase a small bird from in front of us to out of sight, far to our right. Based on its size and method of chase, I have decided it was probably a prairie falcon.
I could not have drawn up that morning any better. Well, we didn’t see a Texas horned lizard—the facility’s only year-round threatened or endangered species—which was a point of major discussion during the tour. But, we did see plenty of wildlife, which is not unusual here at Pantex. It was a very productive tour of our Wild Pantex.
This mule deer buck makes his home on the Pantex Plant.
Pantex, Y-12 and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory recently completed the first phase of a software program pilot, designated as BUILDER Centers of Excellence by the National Nuclear Security Administration.
The three sites were chosen by NNSA in 2013 to pilot the program that helps facility managers and maintenance managers decide how best to maintain building infrastructure. The first phase was completed this spring and phase two should be completed this fall.
The BUILDER Sustainment Management System was developed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to aid the U.S. Army in managing its 160,000 buildings. The goal of BUILDER is to equip building managers to proactively respond to infrastructure maintenance needs and thus reduce the chance of unexpected component breakdowns and system failures. The Department of Defense adopted the BUILDER program, and it’s also being used by the U.S. Marine Corps and Navy.
NNSA plans to roll out BUILDER to all its sites where the critical nature of the national security work makes preventing facility system failures and breakdowns imperative.
“Everything in a building has an estimated life. BUILDER allows us to track when components were last replaced and know when they will need to be replaced again,” Y12 Site Master Planner Jane Nations said. “This effort will greatly improve NNSA’s ability to more accurately determine maintenance and recapitalization costs across the complex, and improve how NNSA prioritizes all of the facilities as a whole.”
Nations said CNS was chosen as a pilot because of the willingness of its team members in Program Integration and Infrastructure to test and implement new initiatives.
CNS completed the first phase of implementation, which entailed inputting data for mission critical facilities in March of this year. Phase two will be completed this fall, fully populating the system with all buildings in the inventory. Once this is completed, condition and functionality assessments will be performed and data entered. The goal by 2018 is to complete data loading on the total 345 facilities at Y12 as well as 620 at Pantex, then implementing the program to plan maintenance and repair projects.
Ultimately facility managers and maintenance mangers will use the BUILDER program to measure maintenance investment and condition index at facilities across all eight NNSA sites.
The Phase 1 and 2 process included the development of property data (e.g., year built, square footage, master equipment list and construction materials). More detailed information will be hand gathered such as system inventories and condition inspection results to complete the information for each facility record.
Pantex’s Steve Patterson, Infrastructure Facilities Services, said he and his team members are proud to work alongside their Y12 colleagues to assist NNSA with the implementation of BUILDER. He anticipates the program will allow for cleaner, leaner and more accurate data.
“With most sites facing limited resources and funding, accurate asset management information plays a critical role in property lifecycle management, maintenance budgeting, program missions and sustainment,” Patterson said. “Pantex is already seeing great potential with BUILDER.”
Electrical inspector Ken Miller demonstrates how a thermal imager is used during facility condition assessments, which provide data for the BUILDER Sustainment Management System.
With underground testing long out of the question, the health of the country’s nuclear weapons stockpile relies in part on pit testing conducted at Pantex. At Pantex’s Special Nuclear Material Component Requalification Facility, pits — a nuclear weapon’s heart — are probed for analytical data.
“When we obtain a pit, it is unpackaged, cleaned, visually inspected and weighed, and a leak check is performed to ensure it’s sealed,” Special Nuclear Materials Department Manager Randall Hodges said. “That’s when it goes to either the Laser Gas Sampling System for surveillance or the integrated pumpdown and fill station for requalification.”
Akin to a blood draw, the Laser Gas Sampling System enlists a laser to drill a hole into the pit tube the diameter of a human hair to obtain a small amount of gas. The same laser welds the hole shut, and the gas sample is transported to the gas lab where a determination is made about its composition.
A second process is comparable to a blood transfusion. The integrated pumpdown and fill station’s high‑energy laser drills a hole in the pit tube, the gas is replaced, and the laser welds the hole shut. These gas samples also head to the gas lab for analysis.
Both systems support the overall Pantex mission. Requalification allows a pit to stay in the stockpile; surveillance involves obtaining information on a pit, then sharing it with the national laboratories to help certify to the President that the nuclear weapons stockpile is at an extremely high level of quality.
“Our most important work involves the surveillance and reprocessing of nuclear material for nuclear weapons,” David Cole, Weapons Operations director, said. “It has to be very high quality given the lack of underground testing. We can’t build new, so we’ve got to take components that were not designed to remain in the stockpile this long and make them last longer.”
A pit’s visit to the Special Nuclear Material Component Requalification Facility involves much more than “blood work,” and the entire process can take four to five days. Microfocus X‑ray ensures that the pit’s weld is acceptable. Then, it revisits both the weigh station and leak test station.
Additional steps include the dye penetrant station, coordinate measuring machine and Tube Evaluation Test System. The pit is then re‑marked and its condition documented at the pit imaging station. Finally, it is repackaged and sent back to the warehouse for future use in another weapon.
A second Laser Gas Sampling System, referred to as LGS2, will soon double Pantex’s operational capacity, increase reliability and provide higher quality and more consistent welds.
“The laser in LGS2 is a newer technology system that runs off laser diodes rather than flash lamps, and produces more consistent operation as it ages,” Nate Davis, former Special Nuclear Materials Technical Department manager, said. “It also allows the use of fiber transmission of the laser rather than a complicated mechanical/optical train, which alleviates maintenance time involved in aligning the optics.”
A second requalification process, to be designed in house, is expected to be installed at the end of fiscal 2016.
The Pantex Plant manufactures high explosives to support the nation’s nuclear deterrent. Nuclear weapons require both high‑explosive charges and special nuclear material. Pantex’s experts manufacture the main‑charge high explosive by making the raw munitions powder, heating it in ovens and pressing it into a solid. The main‑charge high explosive surrounds the nuclear core, or pit, of a weapon.
For more than 50 years, the Pantex Plant has manufactured high‑explosive charges for every weapon in the nation’s nuclear stockpile. Much of that work is carried out in six aging facilities. But soon, high‑explosive operations will be conducted in the site’s newly built High Explosives Pressing Facility. The one‑of‑a‑kind HEPF will consolidate processes in a single modern facility, increase manufacturing throughput by 180 percent, and over the life of the facility, save $92 million in high‑explosive transportation costs.
For Lennon Mings, HEPF represents a quantum leap in high‑explosives operations. “This is a huge advancement,” said Mings, a high‑explosives pressing engineer. “While Pantex has always been at the forefront of pressing operations, HEPF will allow us to increase not only productivity but also our capability both in the size of explosive components and in improved process control, which equates to a better quality product.”
Mings and other Pantex engineers and technicians helped design the processes in the new facility so that equipment and tools are within easy reach, which drives efficiency, nearly doubles throughput without adding personnel and increases worker protection. Moreover, detailed information in the design model will aid in machine maintenance and repair.
Not surprisingly, the new facility will change how Mings does his job. “HEPF will be more reliable, which will free up my time to play a more active engineering role in operations,” he said. “I won’t spend nearly as much time troubleshooting issues with ovens and ancillary equipment that support pressing.”
In addition to more efficient processes and a revitalized infrastructure, other HEPF benefits include improved safety and reduced transportation costs. The 45,000‑square‑foot facility consolidates packaging, staging, pressing, machining and density operations, which decreases risks and costs associated with transporting a main‑charge high explosive from one building to the next.
“Because process facilities are scattered, today a main‑charge high explosive moves all over the site,” said Robert McClary, who heads up Pantex’s High Explosives Manufacturing organization.
“Every time you move it, there’s a risk … the potential to drop it or have a vehicle accident. With HEPF most everything is in one place, so we significantly lower that risk and save on transportation costs.”
Now that HEPF construction is complete, CNS personnel are prepping the facility for startup. Tooling is being moved in, network and security systems are being added and detailed procedures are being developed so that operations can begin by fall 2016. “We’ve got the keys to the building and now are readying it to make it operational,” McClary said.
Once operational, HEPF will be the hub of the Department of Energy’s High Explosives Center of Excellence for manufacturing.
“I grew up in Amarillo and for many years didn’t know the important role that Pantex plays in national security,” said Monty Cates, director of Explosive Operations at Pantex. “Now, as an employee, I can tell you we meet the mission daily. When we leave our homes in the morning to come to work, our goal is to protect our families and our nation. We know HEPF is key to securing America’s future.”
Operations began at the Pantex Plant in 1942, so it's no surprise many of the almost 650 buildings are in need of repair, renovations or refurbishment. Many of the issues with facilities were identified in the Quality of Life list that was developed after the Safety Culture Surveys in 2010 and 2011. Here’s an update on the Vehicle Maintenance Facility (VMF)at Pantex.
Although the VMF is a few decades newer than its predecessors, it has been in use since the 1980s – more than 30 years with no upgrades. In one break room, wallpaper was peeling and everything in the area seemed to stay damp. The kitchen area was completely overhauled with new cabinets, a sink and an oven. The mechanics break room was completely gutted and new dry wall was installed and painted.
Contractors also re-sealed the windows and replaced the floor. In addition, new filing cabinets were installed to honor requests to expand the storage in the break room.
The restrooms were equally problematic with dirt, stains and leakage. All the restrooms and shower facilities have been replaced completely. New flooring, dry wall, tile, lavatories, and plumbing were installed. The windows were re-sealed and some lockers were replaced.
Finally, an upstairs office was converted to a main conference room and smaller offices including new tile floor, painting and new cubicles. All the flooring, damaged or dirty ceiling tiles, and HVAC vents in the first and second levels were replaced.
The transformation was completed over seven months. The repaired areas look like new, and only products designed for longevity were used in the renovation.
VMF Men's Shower Before and After
VMF Mechanic's Break Room Before and After
VMF Yard Group's Break Room Before and After