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Neighbors of Pantex get first ever explosives demonstration

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AMARILLO - Living on a farm is typically quiet and serene, but families on land surrounding Pantex are used to frequent booms and shakes.

Neighbors told say Pantex is great about informing them of when they're going to test high explosives, yet they still never really get used to it. But after spending an afternoon at the plant Tuesday, they have a better idea of what's going on when they hear a blast.

"Sometimes you forget that they're going to do a test shot, then all the sudden a big boom and you're kind of like woah," said Tonya Detten. "It's mostly the shock wave. You feel it before you even hear the sound."

Tonya Detten has lived right next door to Pantex for 22 years. She now works at the plant as well, but today was the first time her husband and son have ever been on site.

"That's kind of cool for me that I got to have lunch with my husband and my son and that he got to see some of this because otherwise, I don't talk a lot about what I do at work," she said.

Several other neighbors as well as a group of Florida tourists and Pantex new hires watched seven high explosives detonate.

The first demonstration was a shoe blasted by less than two grams of explosive material. A watermelon, can, and two orange figures were also blown to bits. For the last denotation, the crowd had to move several hundred feet away from a barrel blasted by 25 pounds of high explosive.

Pantex crews even gave a demonstration inside a building never before seen by regular civilians or media.

"When you hear a sound, or you feel a pressure wave go by, we want those folks to understand what we're doing and make them understand all the safety aspects that we go through to make sure that we're safe," Division Manager of Explosive Technologies, Monty Cates said.

Pantex's "High Explosive Center of Excellence" maintains the entire nuclear stockpile of the United States. Over a lunch provided by the plant, Cates explained the importance of making sure high explosives age correctly and new ones work properly.

"You have to have high explosives to have a nuclear explosion," Cates said.

Many of the facilities on the plant involved with high explosives have been on site since World War II when the plant was built. Many of those buildings will be torn down and consolidated into a newly approved "High Explosive Science Technology and Engineering Facility," that the plant estimates to cost well over $60 million.

It's been 36 years since the last explosives accident at the plant that killed three employees. Cates says the chances of that happening again are extremely slim.

"If anything were to happen, everything is in place to take care of that from a small event to the worst that you can think of," he said.

After Tuesday's demonstration, neighbors say they feel safe.

"I feel as safe here as I would anywhere else," Detten said. "Pantex does keep us informed. You know, there were some concerns about water and stuff at one point, but they kept us really well informed and we know what's going on. So I don't feel at all like they're keeping secrets from us or anything like that."

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