Panhandle nuclear weapons plant vows to improve worker relations after report
Posted Friday, Mar. 15, 2013
AMARILLO -- Officials say they are working to improve worker-management relations at the Panhandle facility that assembles and disassembles nuclear weapons after getting a "sobering" report that workers fear retaliation for reporting safety issues.
The head of a watchdog agency that monitors safety at U.S. nuclear weapons facilities found "troubling" an Energy Department review that said some plant workers at Pantex believe they will be retaliated against if they report safety concerns, the Amarillo Globe-News reported Friday. Peter Winokur, chairman of the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, said at a meeting Thursday that nuclear safety must be paramount at Pantex. Board members met with top National Nuclear Security Administration and senior Pantex officials to discuss the results of the energy department's review.
"The nuclear explosive safety program must ensure the prevention of a main charge high-explosive detonation or an unintended nuclear detonation," Winokur said.
Neile Miller, NNSA's acting administrator, said the agency took the Energy Department's review seriously and is developing an action plan to correct issues raised by workers and the board.
"The results were sobering," she said.
In 2011, the board learned about an incident when warhead disassembly work proceeded beyond authorized operations, a serious safety issue that also sparked an internal investigation by B&W Pantex, the plant contractor. As part of its investigation, the contractor surveyed personnel in its nuclear explosives safety division. According to the survey, "eight out of 10 employees believe it is a career-limiting move to raise concerns."
Last year, the DOE's Office of Enforcement and Oversight did an independent review of the plant's safety culture.
The agency's review came about after two plant workers told safety board staffers "about perceived retaliation for raising a safety concern." The report said Pantex's senior management needed to work to gain the respect and trust of workers.
John Woolery, B&W Pantex general manager, said a member of management did not listen in 2011 when employees expressed safety concerns. The work should have been suspended, he said, until concerns were resolved.
Pantex, about 17 miles northeast of Amarillo, dismantles retired nuclear bombs and modifies weapons for the U.S. atomic arsenal.
Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218. Ph: 410-366-1637; Email: mobuszewski [at] verizon.net. Go to http://baltimorenonviolencecenter.blogspot.com/
"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs