Texas Panhandle
8:00 pm
Mon January 20, 2014

Pantex: Water and Soil Cleanup Efforts Appear to Be Working

This Sept. 4, 1992 file aerial photo provided by Pantex shows the U.S. Department of Energy's Pantex Plant near Amarillo, Texas.
Credit AP Photo/Pantex, File / mercurynews.com

Pantex is the nation’s only plant for assembling and disassembling nuclear weapons.  The plant was added to the national Superfund cleanup list because of past site practices of burning chemicals in unlined pits, burying waste in unlined landfills, and discharging waste into on-site surface waters known as playa lakes in 1994.  The first five year review of the site was recently completed, and it appears efforts to clean up soil and groundwater contamination have been effective according to The San Jose Mercury News.

The review says the long-term project focus is on removing contamination from soil and a shallow aquifer beneath the plant, keeping contamination from reaching the Ogallala Aquifer.  The Ogallala lies under eight states and is the Panhandle’s major source of municipal, industrial, and agricultural water.

"We are already seeing significant reduction in contaminant concentration in parts of the perched aquifer," said Camille Hueni, who's overseeing the project for the Environmental Protection Agency.

George Rice, an independent hydrologist who is familiar with Pantex and its contaminants and looked over the review, said Hueni's assertion about dropping concentrations of contaminants could be misleading.

"If the concentration's down just because the plume of (the explosive) RDX is spreading, you're just diluting it. That's not that good," said Rice, who's from San Antonio.

Environmental officials have said the cleanup is estimated to cost around $135 million.  Its effectiveness is tested by sampling water in an established network of monitoring wells to get what's in the shallow aquifer to drinking water standards, said Tony Biggs, environmental programs director for B&W Pantex.

Biggs also said reviews will be issued every five years until Pantex officials believe the remediation of soil and groundwater is complete.  At that time the plant will submit a final report for review by federal and state regulators. 

The Pantex plant is located 17 miles northeast of Amarillo.

More details can be found at The San Jose Mercury News.