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
Three years ago as part of the Quality of Life initiative, Y12 Production developed a standardized checklist for evaluating livability in the production facilities from criteria used by restaurants, schools and other public facilities. This systematic approach for renovations, using a standardized evaluation form, helped ensure equality across the facilities. Now, this evaluation method has been adopted enterprise wide and incorporated into the CNS General Workplace Improvement (GWI) Program Plan issued in January.
The intent of the GWI program is to identify, prioritize and execute activities that will improve the work environments at Pantex and Y12. The plan provides guidance for prioritization and execution of GWI projects and will be updated annually to define and communicate planned projects.
GWI Program Manager Jim Reilly said, “GWI investments provide basic human needs and help maintain or improve personnel safety. The GWI plan will ensure a focused and consistent approach to improving the workplace environments at both sites.”
GWI projects will concentrate on common areas, such as breakrooms, office areas, lunchrooms, restrooms, change houses, lobbies and parking lots, with improvements to lighting, HVAC systems, plumbing, carpentry, roof repairs, painting and walking surfaces. Renovations will be prioritized based on safety risk, severity of existing conditions, number of people affected, as well as future use.
In FY 2014, $9.3 million was invested in GWI, and both sites combined addressed nearly 500 GWI-related projects, which included direct employee concerns identified through the Pantex Safety Culture Advocates and the Y12 Employee-Driven Safety Campaign.
“The success of the GWI program is dependent on feedback from employees to identify scope and evaluate the effectiveness of completed improvement activities,” Reilly said. Currently, Y12 building managers and Atomic Trades and Labor Council safety representatives are reevaluating conditions in facility common areas by performing walk downs together and updating the 2012 ratings. A similar analysis is being performed at Pantex.
After the data are collected, the information from both sites will be evaluated and ranked by the Safety Culture Monitoring Panel to identify the highest-priority projects for the next fiscal year.
In FY 2015, several GWI projects are underway. At Pantex, six restroom/shower areas in Buildings 12-5, 12-5C and 12-6 are being refurbished, and the hot water system in Building 12-103, one of the plant’s primary change areas, is being replaced. Similarly, at Y12, the Post 8 pedestrian checkpoint has been enclosed to provide a climate-controlled area for personnel processing through the area. A second Y12 project involves reconfiguring the Building 9119 auditorium to provide a modern, large group meeting area inside the protected area.
“CNS is committed to investing in the GWI initiative to improve workplace conditions. The poor conditions in some areas that resulted from years of deferred maintenance, as well as everyday use, do not provide optimal working conditions. Such conditions lower morale and degrade the safety conscious work environment,” said Paul Wasilko, CNS Safety Culture program manager.
“Our goal is to strengthen our safety culture by addressing the needed improvements. These conditions cannot all be fixed overnight — but we now have a process in place to identify and prioritize the needed improvements.”
Typical mortgage loans allow borrowers to purchase a home without paying the full cost upfront. In a similar manner, energy savings performance contracts, or ESPCs, allow Consolidated Nuclear Security, LLC, to complete projects at Pantex and Y12 that improve energy efficiency and support infrastructure renewal and reliability without upfront capital.
During the past few years, the National Nuclear Security Administration Production Office has partnered with two energy service companies on ESPCs at Pantex and Y12 as part of an enterprise-wide initiative to improve energy efficiency and revitalize site infrastructure.
Senior Director of Infrastructure and Projects Management Dan Glenn said, “The energy service company puts up the capital to do the work, and we pay them back through the energy savings gained over the term of the contract.”
At Pantex, an ESPC with Siemens Government Technologies Inc. has enabled the plant to harness the power of wind energy with the installation of five 2.3megawatt wind turbines capable of producing approximately 47 million kilowatt-hours of electricity annually.
During installation of the wind turbines, Infrastructure and Projects Management worked with Pantex Engineering to address a concern about possible voltage fluctuations affecting the plant’s sensitive equipment. The solution was to install a power quality meter to monitor the specific output of the wind farm. The 426foottall turbines can generate enough energy cost-savings to pay for the project and later provide additional cost savings directly to Pantex. In the month of May, the wind farm produced 4,022,647 kWh, which was 66% of the plant’s total energy consumption.
At Y12, the ESPC projects, managed by Johnson Controls, Inc., are having noticeable impact on the utility infrastructure, as well as the site’s energy efficiency.
“We wouldn’t have the budget to do this work at Y12 without an ESPC. More money becomes available because it is tied to energy savings. We try to leverage all funding opportunities to improve the infrastructure to make it more reliable and reduce the maintenance needs of the site,” Glenn said.
Currently, there are five main projects at different stages of progress, including the chiller plant upgrade, steam system decentralization, lighting upgrades, a new compressed air facility and steam system repairs. The upfront capital for these projects is funded by JCI; however, Y12 is responsible for support costs, including activities such as lock out/tag out, utility surveys and engineering drawing review.
Providing support funding and coordinating activities to lessen the impact to mission work and schedule are some of the challenges that come with ESPCs.
“These projects improve plant reliability, operational efficiency and infrastructure, and eliminate a significant amount of deferred maintenance. We invest our funds into the support costs for the ESPCs because we know of the bigger benefit to the site,” Glenn said.
“Improving energy efficiency and revitalizing the infrastructure is an enterprise-wide initiative, and we’ll continue to leverage ESPCs to help achieve our sustainability goal.”