Monday, April 7, 2008

Another Explosive My Town Monday Post

Those of you my age or older may remember the old safety drills at school. The ones that were supposed to prepare you in case of an overhead bomb attack. The Cold war Era policy that hiding beneath your desk with your hands interlocked over the back of your tucked head seemed ridiculous to me even in grade school. Especially since nuclear bombs seemed to be the tthreat most people feared most.

But for those of us living in or near Amarillo the drills were particularly asinine. Why? Because of this place.
What it is you say? Glad you asked. This is an aerial shot I found on the internet of the Pantex Plant located sixteen miles east of Amarillo.

What is the Pantex Plant? It is the United States only assembly and disassembly plant for nuclear weapons.

Here is some info I gathered from a website called Global Security.

Pantex Plant's primary mission is to:

  • Assemble nuclear weapons for the nation's stockpile
  • Disassemble nuclear weapons being retired from the stockpile
  • Evaluate, repair, and retrofit nuclear weapons in the stockpile
  • Demilitarize and sanitize components from dismantled nuclear weapons
  • Provide interim storage for plutonium pits from dismantled nuclear weapons
  • Develop, fabricate, and test chemical explosives and explosive components for nuclear weapons and to support Department of Energy (DOE) initiatives.

Fissile Material: Total quantity of plutonium is 66.1 metric tons, including Department of Defense quantities (February 6, 1996).

Call me crazy, but I don't think covering your neck with your hands is going to save you when you have 66.1 metric tons of plutonium a few miles away. I'll confess that my knowledge of the place is based mostly on rumor and speculation since information about the joint is sketchy at best.

I do have family that works there but let's jsut say they are highly discouraged to chat about the procedures and working operations of the plant. When my family was hired the FBI came around and talked to neighbors and such and this was long before the heightened security awareness that came with 9/11. Actually I am surprised by the amount of info and pictures available on the web.

I have always heard that the explosives and what not are buried deep beneath the facility and that the airspace above the grounds is restricted. Like this shot of a temporary staging bunker for nuclear weapons that accompanied a story last year in the Washington Post about the guards going on strike.

As a kid I often heard the rumor that Amarillo was on a top ten list of places most likely to get bombed all because of the city's proximity to Pantex. I have no idea if that is true or simply the imagination of kids at work. I suspect the latter unless terrorists, and rogue dictators around the world participate in a Nielson survey of places they'd most like to attack.

I also once read a novel where nuclear engineer gone bad was plotting to steal uranium from Pantex. In the scene just before he was to nab the good the bad guy was talking about how quiet the grounds were at night because there were no crickets because the place was heavily sprayed with pesticide so the noisy critters would not interfere with surveillance equipment. My family that works there assure me there are as many crickets on the grounds as anywhere in the Texas Panhandle so that myth has been debunked.

As with any nuclear facility there are, and have been critics of the plant. A Catholic Bishop once urged all Catholics to quit working at the plant, and a peace group owns and operate the peace farm on adjacent land.

Pantex is one of the highest paying employers in the area, as well as one of the largest with a workforce nearing four thousand people.

As I said I don't profess to know much about the facility. Some of my local readers might know more and if we are lucky they'll chime with a fact or rumor or two in the comments.


Fellow My Town Monday Participant, Josephine Damian has hit upon a great idea. A My Town Monday book review day. Her suggestion is that we all read and review a novel set in our hometown or area for posting on a future Monday. I like the idea and plan to post mine on May 12th. Hope a few of you join in and do the same. That give you over a month to find and read an appropriate novel. Click on the links below to visit other My Town Monday-ers and if you want to jump and tell us something interesting about your town jump in and drop me a comment so I can link you. By the way if you want to read any of my other posts about Amarillo, Texas clcik on the My Town Monday label at the very bottom of this post.



Ello ------------------------------ Washington D.C
Josephine Damian ------------- New Rochelle, New York
Lyzzydee ----------------------Welwyn Garden City, England
Sex Scenes at Starbucks ------- Lawrence, Kansas
Terrie Farley Moran ----------- New York City, New York
Debra -------------------------- Village of Peninsula, Ohio
Jason -------------------------- Sugar Creek, Missouri
Clair Dickinson ----------------Livingston County, Michigan
Pattinase ----------------------- Detroit, Michigan
Sam Winston ------------------- Montchauvet, France
DebbieLou --------------------- Bishops Stortford, England
Barrie Summy ----------------- Chandler, Arizona
Carleen Brice ------------------ The power of Cyberville (Check this out for a worthy cause and the oppurtunty for you to help while getting something for youself as well)
Britta Coleman ---------------- Fort Worth, Texas
WordVixen--------------------- Lancaster, Pennsylvania


alex keto said...

Yeah, that old safety drill. Tuck your hands behind your head and duck your head between your legs to kiss your ass goodbye.

Oak Ridge used to ship a lot of components to Pantex in convoys of three semis with outriding vehicles, all unmarked. You might see them if they still operate that way.

The idea was that driving nuclear triggers --atom bombs -- down the highway was actually safer than all the alternatives such as air and rail. Makes you feel safe, don't it.

texlahoma said...

I remember those drills, they made me feel safe...not really all the kids knew it was stupid.
I once heard that everyone in Amarillo got free natural gas or something like that. I didn't even know about the Pantex Plant. I'm sure it does have some nukes pointed at it. I read that if the big countries go at it, there will be plenty of warheads to go around.

Brooke said...

Wait a posted from the future! It is still Sunday in my neck of the woods...

Unless my brain has been damaged...which honestly is completely possible.

Travis Erwin said...

Alex - I thought they shipped that stuff via first class mail and that is why they pay me so good here at the P.O.

Texlahoma - Far as I know we've never gotten free gas but the city does or did sit on the world largest helium deposit and natural gas was a byproduct and in some deal we used to have cheaper gas prices but that is a post for a future My Town Monday that will require a bit of research.

Brooke - I always cheat and post MTM early so I can concentrate in linking later.

Anonymous said...

I'm guessing their security (in terms of terrorism) is better than many other industrial sites. There are chemical plants that are very soft targets, as well as chemical laden trains, that really worry me. Seems like there will always be some reason to hide under our desks:(

Josephine Damian said...

Brooke: He taught me how to advance post as well.

Blatant self-promte: I attended a luncheon with Janet Evanovich on Saturday, learned much and will be blogging about it on Tues.

TE: Thanks for the double shout out! I have put "Ragtime" on hold at the library. Glad you picked a week that far out (but not past Memorial Day ;-)cause I'm reading two terrific books now, and I plan on reviewing them first.

Oh yeah, remember those drills in school quite well.

Are you sure about those crickets?

My cousin works (or used to work) as a SWAT team member at the nuke plant on the SC/GA border, so I too have family that I wonder about (mostly I wonder if my cousin glows in the dark lol).

I saw Ted Turner interviewed recently and he said the next prez needs to make eliminating nuke weapons, world-wide, priority one. I admit I really hadn't given them much thought, but TT had much to say on the subject - a lot of it I didn't know, and your post really drives the point home. Scary.

I can remember driving through New Mexico and seeing these huge circular covers set in the ground - nuke weapons. Creeped me out.

I'm also old enough to remember Three Mile Island (and the hilarious spoof they did about it on Saturday Night Live right after).

lyzzydee said...

Well Travis, does everyone who lives in Amarillo glow in the dark??
Sounds like a scary place!! I am sure that hiding under the table stuff would have done you the world of good I am not really sure it would have done much good with conventional bombs either!!
Thank you for visiting my blog during the week, I didn't realise that we were unusual paying for school transport. We have decided to send our children to a faith school as opposed to a state school. The problem is they are not usually in the same town, so they have to travel by bus. Government cut backs have removed the 'free' bus element and we now have to pay (through the nose) to get them there.
I have posted My Town Monday even though its only Sunday here.
I like the idea of a book review, although for the life of me I can't think of a single booked set in Welwyn Garden City !!!!

Lana Gramlich said...

Eek...nerve wracking! I sometimes think that hitting the power plants at Niagara Falls might be a better starting place--you'd knock out most of N. America's electricity.
I'm going to take a pass on this week's "my town Monday," as I'm a bit swamped with painting right now.

angel, jr. said...

Hey is Amarillo also one day ahead of the rest of us?

sex scenes at starbucks said...

I'm in for MTM.

Terrie Farley Moran said...


WOW! Interesting stuff.

And who else remembers wearing dog tags to school so that they could identify our bodies in the nuclear rubble? The dog tags disappeared with the end of the Korean War aka the Korean Police Action. I transferred schools at the same time and hated my new school because they didn't give us dog tags. What good is school without cool jewelry?

MTM post is up on Women of Mystery.


JenKneeBee said...

Great post! I'm going to have to start participating in My Town Monday semi-frequently.

Titania Starlight said...

I must say I never had to do those drills.

I am one of those peace keeping, tree-huggers and I am so shocked. It is a shame we have advanced in so many ways but still continue to dsetroy our planet and hell bent on destroying ourselves with these weapons of mass destruction.

You sure enlightened me today.

Thank you and yes you are right, you need more then your hands over your head to protect yourself from that place.

Thanks for stopping by my blog. :o)

debra said...

The Village of Peninsula (Ohio) is on the same clock as Amarillo. My Town post is also up. (I've been on time twice--Does that count as a trend?) I'll have to look for a novel set in our little village...

Jason said...

I posted my third installment of My Town Monday. More of a current events issue in my town. I loved hearing about Pantex again. I haven't thought of that place...well in 17 years since I moved 17. Wasn't Pantex part of the reason we got so in to the movie Red Dawn and that story we were co-writing back in junior high? The good old days.

Clair Dickson said...

Sometimes I think local rumors are as much fun as actual facts are.

I have a MTM up.

And I'll have to see if there are any (other) authors who set their stuff in my hometwon. =)

Barrie said...

Here in So Cal, the kids have earthquake drills.

I like the book review Monday. Thank you Josephine Damian!

Okay, I'm really stretching the My Town Monday this week by doing a post on Chandler, AZ (where I spent the weekend). :)

Stephen Parrish said...

I participated in those drills, but since we were in Tornado Alley the idea was that our desk tops would help protect us if the roof came down.

Debbielou said...

Scary stuff -we didn't have any drills like that where I went to school apart from fire drills and the " mercury evacuation" ( In Science lessons it was fairly common for one of my class to "unfortunately drop" a mercury thermometer - we would then all be sent out of the class - great when an exam was due ! The teachers caught on and we started to have to pay every time one was broken.
My MTM post is up.

Sam said...

Whoa - interesting post!! Your town is way more interesting than mine, promise cross my heart. But I'll be glad to join the my town on monday gang!

pattinase (abbott) said...

I see Amarillo understands how to employ people during the Bush administration.

Bernita said...

One of the reasons for those drills was protection from flying glass. All explosions have side effects, and panic and flying glass cause the most injuries.

ChristineEldin said...

Wow, Travis, This is scary! And I believe in the cricket myth, even if it's been debunked. Just makes sense. Yanno?

This is a great post. I like this one and the Stuart ones the best. Now, if only we could get Stuart to do something at Pantex.....

Carleen Brice said...

I'm stretching the definition of My Town Monday quite a bit today, but I hope you'll help spread the word!

sex scenes at starbucks said...

I went to HS in Topeka, which at the time sported the longest airstrip in the US. We were on Russia's short-list for sure.

Britta Coleman said...

Love the idea of a MTM Book Review. I'll join you on the 12th.

Mine's up for today, btw.

Love the Pantex post, and wonderful irony about the safety drill.

Beck said...

I used to live in the Canadian town that was the second on the to-be-bombed list, back in the day - but then the big military base in teh town was closed and I can't imagine anyone being that eager to drop a bomb on North Bay NOW.

Charles Gramlich said...

With that much plutonium handy you'd be better off driving over and parking right there on top of it in case of war. At least that way you know you won't linger long.

Bina said...

Wow! I had no idea that place even existed! I wonder if I lived that close to a place like that, if I would be worried all the time that some type of "Accident" would happen. There are some things I'm paranoid by nature of, and that would just freak me out!

WordVixen said...

*snarf* That is totally a future SNL or Mad TV sketch.

*ring ring*


Yes, is this a Mr... Um, Ben Lad-in?

What do you want, infidel!

Sir, we're taking a survey. Would you care to participate?

Listen American pig-dog, you just woke me up and my harem...

It will only take a minute sir.

Oh, all right. Make it quick!

Here's my MTM entry:

Marla said...

Wow. I would not want to live near that. I have never heard of it before. I have a lot to learn.

Cicily Janus said...

Wow...well, that's the last time I go to a writers conference in Amarillo, with all the radiation in my body from medical crap, I might just trigger something or make something, maybe me spontaneously combust.

Nice post my dear. Hope you are well.



Suzanne said...

Well, look what the cat dragged in! I'm proud to say I'm old enough to remember those drills. They always scared the crap out of me, but I distinctly remember being in 5th grade and finally coming to the realization the desk wasn't going to save me from the bomb and that the drill was stupid. Which of couse scared me more. Why do they traumatize you in grade school?

I haven't commented in some time, but want you to know your post about "My Town" changed my life. I haven't written about it yet, but I finally decided to reveal where I live, all because of you. To quote Kramer on Seinfeld, "I'm free and I'm lovin' it baby!" He of course was referring to not wearing underwear, but you get the point. Thanks.

Hope to see you again soon, and hope the fish aren't bitin'. I'll be over on a Monday as soon as I get my act together on my own blog. 24 hours in a day. Who came up with that brillaint idea?

XO ;)

Shauna Roberts said...

Yes, I remember those stupid drills. We, too, were supposedly on the top ten list of targets because of nearby Wright Patterson Air Force Base.

danette said...

Last year, Army guys found live bombs from the WWII era buried on the grounds of Odyssey Middle School in Orlando. I think even parents approved of skipping school for that.

Linda McLaughlin said...


LOL, yep, I remember those civil defense drills. Duck and cover, they were called. I never could figure out what good it would do either. :)

Love the idea of My Town Monday blogging and I'd love to join in, although in my case, it'll be more My County Mondays since I'm in a major metropolitan area. (Orange County, CA)

Linda McLaughlin