Weapons destruction plant continues; second phase begins

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BGCAPPBy Sarah Hogsed Register News Writer

RICHMOND —

Construction of the Blue Grass Chemical Agent Destruction Pilot Plant is more than 68 percent complete, and the second phase of the project, systemization, has begun.

Site Project Manager Jeff Brubaker gave a quarterly update on the plant construction at Tuesday’s meeting of the citizen’s advisory board.

Brubaker said “tremendous progress” has been made since the last meeting in March. Additions in the past three months have included the placement of the bulk chemical vessels and tanks; the installation of five tanks in the hydrolysate storage area; and the placement of the 13 enclosures that house the munitions demilitarization carbon filter banks.

The majority of labor being performed inside the site’s buildings involve large-scale piping and electrical work, Brubaker said. Currently, workers are installing the munitions washout system, and the reverse osmosis equipment is awaiting placement.

Systemization has begun and will continue for a few years after construction is complete, prior to the destruction of 500 tons of mustard gas and GB and VX nerve agents stored at BGAD. This process encompasses all the planning, technical work, training and testing activities required to ensure that once destruction operations start, they run safely and smoothly, according to Army’s Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternatives website.

Systemization is currently 8 percent complete, Brubaker said.

Another major milestone for the project is the release of the Explosive Destruction Technologies Environmental Assessment, which will be available for public review at the end of this month. Brubaker said draft findings report no significant impact to the environment with the use of this procedure.

The Army is seeking approval to use EDT to neutralize certain mustard gas rounds that already have leaked and been overpacked, referred to as “problem” rounds. If EDT is not used, the rounds will have to be manually dissembled and that leads to considerable risk for workers, according to earlier reports.

The Pueblo, Colo., chemical weapon destruction plant, often referred to as the “sister plant” to the Blue Grass project, recently received approval to use EDT on certain rounds.

The EDT environmental assessment will be available online and at sites where public documents are stored, Brubaker said. A 30-day public comment period will follow, and a community meeting will be conducted to answer any questions or concerns.

Brubaker said safety at the construction site continues to be a priority with 171 days recorded without a “lost time accident” since April 30.

Treaty concerns

Craig Williams, co-chair of the community advisory board, discussed his recent attendance at the Chemical Weapons Convention/Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons third five-year review conference at the Hague.

Representatives from the 188 countries who have signed the Chemical Weapons Convention treaty attended. As of April 28, the United States was in violation of the treaty because of the chemical weapons that have yet to be destroyed at the Blue Grass Army Depot and in Pueblo, Colo.

If a signatory country is not in compliance with the treaty, international sanctions could be imposed. Two other countries, Libya and Russia, also were in violation.

Because the U.S. is making a “good-faith” effort to finish the demilitarization of the weapons, an amendment to the treaty was passed by vote that put the country back into compliance. The treaty now requires that the U.S., Libya and Russia destroy the chemical weapons “in the shortest time possible,” Brubaker said.

Four countries that are known to possess chemical weapons who have not signed the treaty are of concern to the international body, Brubaker said, especially Syria, as there have been reports of chemical weapons being used in the current conflict there.

Those reports have not been confirmed, he added. The other three countries with chemical weapons that are not a party to the treaty are North Korea, Somalia and Sudan.

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