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NNSA, Pantex Break Ground on High Explosives Pressing Facility

AMARILLO, Texas – Officials from National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and Pantex today joined local dignitaries to mark the beginning of construction on the new High Explosives Pressing Facility (HEPF) at the Pantex Plant in Amarillo, Texas. The new $65 million facility will replace buildings constructed during World War II.

“The future of Pantex continues to take shape as construction of the new High Explosives Pressing Facility begins,” said Don Cook, NNSA’s Deputy Administrator for Defense Programs. “The new facility at Pantex is part of NNSA’s commitment in moving from a Cold War era nuclear weapons complex into a more efficient national security enterprise and is an important investment in our future.”

The new 45,000-square-foot HEPF will combine operations currently conducted in six different buildings – two of which date back to World War II – into one state-of-the-art facility. The current facilities suffer from aging infrastructure and equipment that is more than 20 years old, making them unreliable and difficult to repair.

Construction of the HEPF will be managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and is expected to take about two and a half years.

“High explosives production and expertise have been a hallmark of Pantex since the first day the plant was in operation,” said John Woolery, general manager of B&W Pantex. “This new facility will ensure that Pantex can continue to fulfill its critical role in maintaining the nation’s nuclear deterrent. To many, this may look like just another of the many buildings that have been constructed on the plant site over the years, but to us, it’s something much more. This facility represents the future of Pantex. It is a critical tool that will allow us to fulfill our mission of protecting our country for many years to come.”

In addition to providing more modern, reliable production, the HEPF will consolidate activities currently conducted in several different areas of the plant, greatly reducing the movement of high explosives at Pantex. Reduced movement benefits safety and also aids in production, as high explosives (HE) moves can restrict other plant operations.

HE are a key component of a nuclear weapon, providing the initiation for a complex sequence of events necessary for nuclear detonation. HE are pressed into molds at immense pressures, then machined into hemispheres, which surround the nuclear core of the weapon. The explosion of HE provides the force to compress the nuclear material, leading to detonation.

The Pantex Plant has a long history with high explosives. HE capabilities developed while building conventional bombs during World War II were a key factor in the decision by the Atomic Energy Commission to reopen Pantex as a facility for assembly of nuclear weapons. Pantexans continued to lead the way in production of improved HE throughout the ensuing years.

HE expertise continued to be critical to the plant’s mission during the Cold War, and will continue into the future. Replacement of HE in weapons is an important part of the plant’s mission to maintain and extend the life of the nation’s nuclear arsenal. In recognition of that importance, the DOE named Pantex the High Explosives Center of Excellence for HE manufacturing.

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Established by Congress in 2000, NNSA is a semi-autonomous agency within the U.S. Department of Energy responsible for enhancing national security through the military application of nuclear science in the nation’s national security enterprise. NNSA maintains and enhances the safety, security, reliability, and performance of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile without nuclear testing; reduces the global danger from weapons of mass destruction; provides the U.S. Navy with safe and effective nuclear propulsion; and responds to nuclear and radiological emergencies in the U.S. and abroad.