As a resident of the Texas Panhandle, I have been familiar with the workings of BWXT Pantex for most of my life. Located northeast of Amarillo, Texas, Pantex is, as of 1975, the sole final assembly plant for nuclear weapons in the United States. The Pantex Army Ordnance Plant opened in 1942 in conjunction with the Amarillo Army Air Field. In 1961, the Amarillo Globe News described Pantex as "a plaster-cracker, nerve-shatterer, a foundation-quaker, but better a crack in plaster than an enemy bomb crater where once stood a proud plains city called Amarillo."
The plant was established in 1942 to assemble "conventional ammunition shells and bombs." However, it was closed at the end of World War II but reopened in 1950 by the Atomic Energy Commission in order to assemble nuclear warheads and other high explosives.
Though during the Cold War the exact functions of the Pantex plant were relatively unknown to civilians, there has been, in recent years, greater transparency on the nuclear assembly facility. Currently, the Pantex Plant is responsible for the surveillance of weapons and maintenance of the stockpile. The last nuclear weapon was assembled and complete by worker at Pantex in 1991. The 1990s brought about a new era in foreign policy with increased cooperation between the nuclear-capable hegemonic powers. The United States and Russia began reducing their nuclear weapons stockpiles. Pantex played an integral role in the mitigation of the United States' stockpile. Since 1991, the Plant's main focus has been dismantling weapons that have been retired from the military's stockpile. Consequently, the plant stores some 13,000 plutonium pits.
The Pantex Plant's facilities are managed and operated by B&W Pantex for the United States Department of Energy and the National Nuclear Security Administration.
American icon, Texas oilman, rancher, and governmental lobbyist, T. Boone Pickens stated that "as long as we have our defenses such that the Russians realize it would be a disaster to both countries that it's unlikely that it will happen." If we "allow ourselves to go into an unbalanced situation where we can't stand off with them," surely disaster will strike (Mojtabai, 198). This philosophy has guided the work of the Pantex Plant during its role in the Cold War as well as its current role as a nuclear dismantling facility in the twenty-first century.