Toxic Pantex waste contaminates adjacent farm; and

Kirtland Air Force Base still possible storage site for plutonium from nuclear weapons.

* Toxic seepage from the Department of Energy's Pantex nuclear weapons plant near Amarillo, Texas, has contaminated a bordering wheat farm and the groundwater below it. State and federal officials have confirmed that toxic materials in concentrations 10 times higher than safe drinking standards have been detected on the neighboring farm.

The pollution is the first public report of contamination beyond the weapons plant's fenceline since it began as a World War II bomb factory. The Pantex plant evolved into a nuclear weapons assembly site, but more recently has served as the nation's only site for the dismantlement of nuclear weapons.

At a second farm, upstream from the plant, traces of harmful chemical explosives have been detected in a deeper, domestic well that reaches into the Ogallala Aquifer, the vast water supply that irrigates crops in much of the nation's farm belt. State and federal officials say, however, that the analysis from the second farm may be erroneous as five subsequent tests have detected no pollutants.

Pantex, located 17 miles north of Amarillo, was named a Superfund site in 1994. The Superfund designation means that pollution on the grounds warrants a nationally mandated cleanup. Although the plant serves as the site for the dismantlement of nuclear weapons, the pollution detected is not radioactive.

The toxic materials found in the water are RDX, short for Royal Demolition Explosives, a possible cancer-causing compound; and HMX, short for High Melting Explosives, a more potent compound. RDX is also used as a rat poison and can cause damage to the central nervous system, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Kirtland Air Force Base still possible storage site for plutonium from nuclear weapons

When the Department of Energy (DOE) releases its list of possible storage sites for plutonium from dismantled nuclear weapons next month, a group of bunkers at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque will appear as an option.

The DOE is looking for a place to store 20,000-plus plutonium cores - or pits - from dismantled nuclear weapons. The weapons have been dismantled at the DOE's Pantex plant near Amarillo, Texas. The DOE's David Rosson said the Pantex plant remains the Department's first choice.

In 1991, the DOE considered New Mexico sites Fort Wingate and Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) as places to store the plutonium pits. A report obtained by the Albuquerque Journal under a Freedom of Information Act request, considered the possibility of converting LANL's Nuclear Material Storage Facility into a depot for the pits.

Although the study said LANL's storage facility could hold 27,520 pits at a significantly lower price than storing them at Pantex, the DOE has since concluded that Los Alamos' capacity is less than required for the weapons dismantlement program, Rosson said.

The Fort Wingate storage plan was subsequently scrapped as well, and Kirtland remains the only New Mexico facility being considered for the storage.

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