AMARILLO, Texas—The nation's only nuclear weapons assembly and disassembly plant has completed a fire protection system aimed at improving safety and extinguishing potential blazes.

The high-pressure fire loop system, which carries water for extinguishing fires, at Pantex in the Texas Panhandle came in $5.7 million below the $36 million budgeted for the project.

Dennis Huddleston, who managed the project for the contractor that operates the plant, told the Amarillo Globe-News for a report published Saturday ( that millions of dollars in additional work was added because of favorable contracts. That included more piping, 400,000-gallon storage tanks and diesel pumps that provide water to the south end of the plant complex that covers more than 16,000 acres.

"This whole system that we upgraded was done down and around the area where we actually do nuclear weapons work," Huddleston told the newspaper.

Last year, the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, a congressional watchdog agency, raised concerns of possible failures of the fire protection system and the potential threat of a fire or accidental high-explosive blast that could disperse plutonium and other nuclear materials into the air.

The old fire loop, made up of miles of deteriorating iron piping, was replaced with nearly 20,000 feet of corrosion-resistant plastic pipe, fire hydrants and dozens of valves.


The new system will provide water to about 100 facilities on the Pantex grounds.

Construction work was done as armed security officers looked on. The work had to done around the plant's busy production schedule of dismantling weapons and adding upgrades to modernize the nation's atomic arsenal.

A key portion of the fire-suppression system provides water to assembly cells and bays where weapons are handled. When activated, systems inside the hardened concrete buildings are designed to instantly pump thousands of gallons of water inside, snuffing out the threat of a fire or explosion.

The project was first fleshed out during the mid-2000s. It needed a review by officials at National Nuclear Security Administration and to receive funding from Congress during lean budget times, Huddleston said.

Pantex is 17 miles northeast of Amarillo. Workers at Pantex assemble and dismantle nuclear warheads for the Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration. More than 12,000 plutonium pits, which serve as triggers for nuclear warheads, are stored at the plant.


Information from: Amarillo Globe-News,