Sunday, December 17, 2006

Why the conservative approach is sometimes best (or how we almost blew up Amarillo)

An article in the LA Times set the stage a few weeks ago.

In response to a secret order from President Bush, the nation's nuclear weapons laboratories are developing technology to make the weapons virtually impossible to use if they fall into the wrong hands......

But the 3-year-old effort, known as National Security Presidential Directive 28, has drawn strong criticism from many nuclear weapons experts, who doubt that absolute safeguards are necessary or even possible. Instead, they say, the federal government should fix known security weaknesses at bomb labs and factories......

"The real threat is the uranium and plutonium materials that are spread across the country in totally inappropriate places and inadequate facilities," said Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, a Washington group that has long criticized security at Energy Department sites. "So, rather than fixing the problem they have, they are trying to fix a problem they don't have."

Okay, the president is proposing another secret defense boondoggle, a la star wars, to sweeten the pot of some crony, while ignoring real security concerns. What else is new?

Well, one of those inappropriate places happens to be in Texas. Following a news release sent just after Thanksgiving, reports started circulating about a nuclear decommissioning facility in Amarillo. They cited concerns by the Department of Energy, including allegations that engineers were required to work 84 hour weeks and noted a fine was leveraged against BWTX Pantex, the contractor in charge of the facility...

....for three unsuccessful attempts between March 30 and April 26, 2005, to separate parts of a weapon.

The plant was cited for exceeding the amount of allowed force to a weapon and for failing to follow operating procedure.

The actions "demonstrated a nonconservative approach in decision making during a process in which strict adherence to established procedure was vital," according to a department of Energy news release.

."....demonstrated a nonconservative approach....." Such a benign way of saying WE ALMOST BLEW UP THE &&%%$$## PANHANDLE!!!! (Hey, we're a PG site so we'll have to leave it to McBlogger to fill in the blanks.)

Here's some analysis of that little "mishap".

"The Project on Government Oversight, a nonprofit nuclear watchdog organization, called the incident a “near-miss” where production technicians who were disassembling a W56 warhead were putting too much pressure on the warhead.

The Pantex plant, located in the Texas Panhandle, was fined $110,000 and is now being investigated by the Department of Energy for a number of other alleged safety problems.

“When you’re dealing with full-up nuclear weapons, this near-miss is a hell of a situation,” said Peter Stockton, a spokesman for the Project on Government Oversight, or POGO. “A near-miss generally means that something horrible almost happened.”

This is how the Bush administration deals with security in our own back yard -- with pie-in-the-sky boondoggles, lax government oversight, a corporate contractor cutting corners and sacrificing safety for profit, and a nuclear facility that is still not secure.

A year ago we came close to setting off a nuclear catastrophe worse than any dirty bomb scenario ever imagined. With friends like these...

(Hat tip to Panhandle Truth Squad)

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