Suspicious Car Sparked Emergency Alert at Nuclear Weapons Plant

(Bloomberg) -- A suspicious vehicle in the parking lot of the federal government’s main nuclear weapons plant in Texas prompted an emergency alert, road closures and a call to the bomb squad but ended without incident Tuesday.

Employees at the Energy Department’s Pantex Plant north of Amarillo sheltered in place shortly before noon local time while the vehicle, which drew attention during a “routine inspection,” was searched, Steven Wyatt, a spokesman, said by email. He didn’t say what was suspicious about the vehicle.

“It was determined there were no prohibited items or explosives, and the emergency event was resolved without incident,” Wyatt said.

Local authorities closed a nearby highway while the incident unfolded at the sprawling 18,000-acre facility, which was originally designed to build bombs during World War II. Workers there now assemble and dismantle nuclear warheads in special blast-hardened rooms. Since 1975, it has been the primary U.S. facility assembling and dismantling nuclear weapons, with a focus on extending the life of existing devices and decommissioning retired warheads.

Earlier Tuesday, the plant said in a tweet it was experiencing an unspecified emergency related to a “security event” and had mobilized an emergency response team.

A bomb team from the Amarillo Police Department responded to assist, Corporal Jeb Hilton said.

The facility is managed by the Energy Department and its National Nuclear Security Administration.

The site’s emergency preparedness has drawn attention before, such as in a 2017 U.S. Inspector General report that said, among other deficiencies, drills and other training exercises weren’t always conducted.

In 2010, the nuclear weapons plant was put on a security lockdown after employees spotted people in camouflage carrying rifles near the facility -- only to later determine they were Pantex workers hunting legally on property that didn’t belong to the plant.

The Pantex Plant was the sight of a near-miss incident involving the dismantling of a warhead in 2005, according to an account by The Nation. And hundreds of Pantex workers have received medical coverage or compensation for cancer and other medical ailments attributed to their jobs, according to government data cited by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

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