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US nukes: readers reach critical mass

Will Homer Simpson really decimate Texas?

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Letters Our chilling report earlier this week into safety at the US Energy Department's Pantex plant in Texas provoked a veritable inbox meltdown as some readers' ire reached critical mass. Adam Bridge writes:

Although I'm sure it was fun to write, I was dismayed by the hyperbole invoked in your article "Homer Simpson let loose on US nuclear weapons facility".

I'm trying to understand if you were just writing for laughs or if you were trying to actually be journalistic and couldn't pull it off. Maybe it was the "CHurnobylesque" reference that caught my eye - but the entire article seems disconnected with any real knowledge of things nuclear.

In any case you have succeeded in living down to my expectations of any reportage about things nuclear. Incompetence and ignorance are still alive and an easy laugh is ever so much easier to get than facts and insight.

True - it's just too tempting to play Weapons of Mass Destruction for laughs. Ben Rosengart further objects to our doomsday scenario which would see Texas razed to the ground:

It is *extremely* difficult to set off a modern nuclear weapon by accident. The guts of these weapons are manufactured to precise specs and are very very picky.

Modern nukes do contain high explosives, and if a chunk of that went off near a chunk of plutonium, I imagine you could have plutonium bits spread around in an unhealthful way. That's very different from the weapon going off as designed, which you seem to imply is possible.

We're glad to hear it. Whether Pantex goes up in a mushroom cloud or not, would the casual visitor notice anything amiss? This correspondent - who has been granted the protection of anonymity for obvious reasons - thinks not:

Most people would be hard pressed to tell the difference between Texas as it is and "Texas reduced to an irradiated wilderness for 10,000 years" without the aid of a Geiger Counter. It might even be an improvement.

Before picking up hat and six-shooter and heading for Vulture Central, our Texan readers are reminded that it wasn't us who issued this outrageous libel. In any case, you should conserve ammunition for a possible war neighbouring Oklahoma, should the residents of that fine state take exception to this, from Andrew Mattei:

I got a kick out of your Pantex article. I lived in Amarillo for a number of years, and a roommate ofmine worked at the facility (in the '50s' program - dismantling 1950s-era technology - scary stuff).

You fail to mention, the escape routes for the Pantex facility, as well as the 'red zones', are printed on the local phone books (Pantex Emergency Information pages). ;) However, honestly, Amarillo doesn't have much to worry about. The gale force wind from the west that is pervasive in that area will blow any and all 'nuclear crap' over in to Oklahoma (where, myself being a Texan, it belongs anyway). ;)

But what of the burning question of safety? Is the American nuclear industry really in the hands of Homer Simpson? Maybe not: we think he might already be working in Britain:

Having previously worked in the British nuclear industry, I can safely say that bodging plute containers with gaffer tape, falling asleep on the job (of overseeing a nuclear reactor), dodging radioactive seagull sh*t and going out to sunbathe every time the sun shines (instead of overseeing a nuclear reactor, cf above) is all part of Standard Operating Procedure.

Please don't publish this. :o)

OK, we won't. Whatever Homer's current whereabouts, we can confirm that - incredibly - none other than Colonel Sanders is on the Pantex payroll. We kid you not, and as Chief of Security Police the Colonel is in charge of basically a civilian army, more military than law enforcement but with federal arrest authority. Lots of armored vehicle and belt-fed machineguns.

Thanks to Colin Fenn for alerting us to this. The sobering truth about America's nuclear safety - that vulnerable facilities are protected by the man who invented chicken in a cardboard bucket - leads to us agree with reader Merlin who has the last word on the matter:

Fortunately for India, the US doesn't outsource its nuclear weapons program. ®

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