The Pantex plant is the only of its kind in the United States. It is owned and managed by the U.S. Department of Energy, but operated by the BWX corporation. While Pantex is primarily a plutonium storage site and weapons dis-assembly plant, it can and has been used to build nuclear weapons. Replete with its own military security force, the plant, divided into zones, even has an experimental explosive test site known as ‘Zone 11’.
Located 17 miles northwest of Amarillo, the Pantex plant sits on a 16,000-acre property owned by the government in Carson County. During the Cold War, Pantex was the final assembly point for the 70,000 nuclear warheads produced during that period of proliferation. Originally built in 1942 as a bomb factory for use during World War II, it was decommissioned after the war. Not until 1949 did it see any use, when Texas Tech University purchased the property for one dollar. After using the land for experimental cattle-feeding (one can’t help but imagine mutant irradiated cows) for a few years, the Department of Energy issued the U.S. Army a request to reclaim the land from Texas Tech under the recapture clause written into the sale contract. This allowed them to take back the main plant and 10,000-acres in 1951. The rest of the property was leased from Texas Tech in 1989.
Since the re-acquisition of their nuclear weapon facility, the Department of Energy (DOE) has spent millions on expanding and updating the facilities. Currently housing 9,000 pits of Plutonium, – coincidentally named after the Roman god of the underworld – in underground bunkers. An expansion to house 11,000 more pits is expected after the results of a environmental impact report costing more than $30 million.
Recently, the DOE fined the contractors of Pantex $110,000 for the mishandling of a W-56 warhead in November, 2006. Workers complained their negligence was due to working 72-hour shifts. Security guard strikes have also occurred recently due to unreasonably long shifts.
The 20-acre property adjacent to the Pantex plant was purchased by peace activists in 1986 and dubbed ‘The Peace Farm’. The site exists to share information about the Pantex plant, and to stand as opposition and witness to the plant. ‘The Peace Farm’ has since been reduced to a single acre.
Visitation to the plant is difficult to say the least. All visitors are required to read a number of manuals in order to be considered for visitation. Those genuinely interested in visiting the Pantex plant should consult the Pantex website. It should be noted that standing idle outside the perimeter of the property could likely result in detainment and questioning, and is thus ill advised.
Know Before You Go
Out of Amarillo, take US 60 West and turn left onto FM 2373. Guard Stations will be on the left side of the road.