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General Atomics: bad welds

Only 35 percent were discovered to be acceptable

Predator Drone
  • Predator Drone

General Atomics, the big La Jolla–based military contractor most noted for its Predator killer drones, is in hot water over a bunch of bad welds at a new federal weapons destruction plant in Kentucky. As reported by the Lexington Herald Leader last week, the Blue Grass Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plan, scheduled to begin operating in 2020 and finish its job in 2023, has been the victim of “thousands of deficient and questionable welds.” Of 3855 welds under review, the paper reported, only 35 percent were discovered to be acceptable. According to the paper’s report “260 welds required repair, 654 required X-rays and 1,598 needed further evaluation.”

Since the plant is going to handle the destruction of lethal sarin and VX nerve agents long stockpiled at the Blue Grass Army Depot south of Richmond, concerns have been raised. “Weld deficiencies are common but not of this magnitude,” Ron Hink, project manager for Bechtel Parsons Blue Grass, the plant’s prime contractor, told the paper. “This should have been detected in fabrication.”

The fault has been traced to “supercritical water oxidation equipment” furnished by subcontractor General Atomics, which in turn has pointed the finger at one of its vendors. Reported the Herald Leader: “General Atomics has been cooperative and supports the investigation into the bad welds, Hink said. But he said the fabricating subcontractor has referred questions to its legal counsel.”

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