A truly puzzling missive appeared last week from the Defense Nuclear Safety Board outlining Sandia Labs’ discovery of an “emergent issue” (don’t you just love the careful wording?) with the W76 nuclear warhead, which workers at the Pantex plant in Texas are busily rebuilding. The problem, apparently, is that Sandia was laggardly in letting the Pantex folks know about that issue, and said laggardliness “resulted in
operations being performed by the Pantex contractor without a complete
understanding of the hazards involved.”
What that “emergent issue” might be is apparently one of those “I could tell you, but then I’d have to shoot you” sorts of secrets, but I’m reminded of the climax of Goldfinger, as Sean Connery’s James Bond works against a ticking clock to disable The Bomb.
It’s of course worth remembering that the atomic scientist saves the day in Goldfinger, showing up just in time to switch off the device before Bond rips out the wrong wire. And the outcome seems similarly happy at Pantex, where as near as we can tell the information is now flowing smoothly and nothing’s blown up unexpectedly in the last year.
Sandia declined comment. NNSA issued the following statement:
“The referenced event did not introduce a nuclear safety risk at the Pantex Plant. The DNFSB’s letter is focused on the length of time between discovery of a component issue and the notification of the issue to Pantex so information, if appropriate, could be factored into the authorization basis and operations. Many of the issues of interest to the DNFSB occurred between January 2009 and June 2009.
“We intentionally design controls so that we do not depend on the safety performance of individual components to assure the safety of operations at Pantex. This is the situation in that case. However, as part of our continuous improvement culture, we are using this opportunity to review the robustness of the interaction between the Laboratories and Pantex to assure that if there was, in the future, a situation where one of the important safety controls was compromised that positive notification and action would assure prompt safety actions will be coordinated.”
(Image of Bond puzzling over The Bomb via Universal Exports)