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Pantex Plant Secured Against Threats, Operator Says

The defenses surrounding the Pantex Plant in Texas make the nuclear-weapon facility one of country's best-guarded sites, a federal contractor said following the arrest of an area student suspected of scheming to attack U.S. atomic energy facilities, the Amarillo Globe-News reported today (see GSN, Oct. 20, 2010).

Saudi Arabian citizen Khalid Ali-M Aldawsari, enrolled at South Plains College in Levelland, faces a federal charge of attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction. Justice Department documents indicate the 20-year-old student bought ingredients used in the making of explosives and studied potential targets including nuclear facilities and the Texas home of former President George W. Bush (see related GSN story, today).

The Pantex Plant near Amarillo is responsible for the assembly, disassembly and refurbishment of U.S. nuclear warheads.

"B&W; Pantex does not comment on specific elements of security at the facility," the plant's contract operator said in remarks released yesterday. "However, Pantex is protected at all times by a world-class security force and scores of safeguards and security systems. As part of our security efforts, we keep in close contact with state and federal authorities regarding pending threats."

The specific size of the plant's security force is withheld from the public, but is known to be in the hundreds. Pantex has put in place an enhanced training program that permits security personnel to carry out maneuver simulations on a large display.

Guards are required to meet certain physical stamina standards and to be skilled in the handling of a range of automatic guns. Pantex employees, meanwhile, are required to pass background examinations prior to receiving work clearance.

A particularly secure area of the Pantex Plant is Zone 4, which contains partially sunken bunkers that house in sealed containers the plutonium cores of nuclear warheads. Enormous concrete slabs obstruct access to the bunker doors, which are opened using heavy machinery kept at a different part of the facility.

Specialized vehicles and guards armed with machine guns regularly patrol Zone 4. Radar is in place to raise the alert to possible air-based attacks (Jim McBride, Amarillo Globe-News, Feb. 25).

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