Thursday, February 26, 2004

Training, Safe Operating Procedures? Nah, Just Get The Job Done

Workers Use Tape to Secure Aging Nuke Bomb

WASHINGTON — Workers dismantling an aging nuclear weapon secured broken pieces of high explosive by taping them together, federal investigators found. An explosion could have occurred, they said.

The incident was among several recent safety lapses at the Energy Department's Pantex plant near Amarillo, Texas, noted by the independent Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board. Last fall, workers taking apart another old warhead accidentally drilled into the warhead's radioactive core, forcing evacuation of the facility.

This month's unorthodox handling of the unstable explosive increased the risk that the technicians would drop it and set off a "violent reaction," the safety board said Tuesday in a letter to Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham.

Such a reaction could have "potentially unacceptable consequences," board chairman John T. Conway said in the letter, which raised disquieting questions about safety at the Pantex plant.