The following is from Global Security Newswire.
In December, the Pentagon's Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternatives program announced that it was considering exploding roughly 15 percent of the chemical munitions stockpiled at the Pueblo Chemical Depot in Colorado and at the Blue Grass Army Depot in Kentucky.
A limited number of munitions at the two depots are thought to be leaking chemical agent, making them too dangerous to send through neutralization plants now being built. However, ACWA officials are weighing using detonation technology on 125,000 mustard agent-filled weapons in an effort to demonstrate to the international community U.S. sincerity in meeting treaty obligations to destroy all chemical weapons (see GSN, Jan. 26).
The Kentucky and Colorado sites are the only two U.S. chemical depots where disarmament operations have yet to begin.
"We report every quarter on what we have destroyed, and it is very difficult to explain to others that we are working as hard as possible if that column shows zero for several years at a time," said Robert Mikulak, U.S. envoy to the international organization that monitors compliance with the Chemical Weapons Convention.
Former Pueblo depot worker Marcello Soto said he does not support detonation out of fear that the chemicals "would get up in the atmosphere or the air, and do some damage."
Kentucky resident Elise Melrood expressed similar fears: "It's just scary -- just the unknown."
Environmental activists who previously helped stymie a federal proposal to incinerate chemical warfare materials at Blue Grass and Pueblo now worry that exploding the weapons would create even greater troubles.
"It's taking a bad technology we fought for a decade and a half to get them to abandon here and telling us now they want to put in something worse," said Sierra Club official Ross Vincent in Colorado.
The plants would destroy chemical agents by combining them with water and other elements. The chemically neutralized mix would then be moved to a hazardous materials site.
Defense officials are hopeful that disarmament operations will be finished at Pueblo by 2017 and at Blue Grass by 2021, dates that are far past the Chemical Weapons Convention deadline of April 2012.
Blue Grass stores has 523 tons of nerve and blister agents while Pueblo has a stockpile of 2,611 tons of mustard agent.
Detonating munitions is only expected to shave off several months off the U.S. time line for eliminating its chemical stockpile.
"What it does is give us increased confidence we'll be able to achieve the dates we've announced," ACWA Program Manager Kevin Flamm said in December.
"We're not trying to pull the wool over anybody's eyes," he said. "Frankly there isn't any other technologies we've found that can eliminate these weapons safely and environmentally friendly in the time frame we're looking at" (Jeffrey McMurray, Associated Press/Yahoo!News, Feb. 19).