Fewer Mustard Shells to be Blown up at Pueblo

The U.S. Defense Department has again trimmed its estimate on the number of blister agent munitions that could be destroyed with explosives at the Pueblo Chemical Depot in Colorado, the Associated Press reported yesterday (see GSN, Sept. 14).

The Pentagon's Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternatives program, which manages demilitarization activities at Pueblo, now expects 38,000 mustard shells will be blown up within a special detonation chamber. That number is down by 2,000 from a figure quoted just weeks ago.

When officials first announced their plan to use explosives on the chemical weapons, they said the process would likely be used on 500 to 1,000 leaking or degraded munitions. In late 2009, that figure was ratcheted up to 125,000 shells.

Officials proposed the 125,000 figure in order to speed up the destruction of the site's 780,000-weapon stockpile. Pueblo's chemical agent neutralization facility is not expected to begin operations until 2015; that creates a three-year gap in U.S. chemical disarmament efforts if all presently operating facilities finish off their stockpiles in 2012 as planned and mandated by the Chemical Weapons Convention.

That proposal was abandoned when officials determined the required environmental review process would take too much time.

"We've had some difficulty coming up with numbers," ACWA Program Manager Kevin Flamm said.

He said authorities are "trying to be transparent in a very dynamic atmosphere where the numbers are changing."

The 40,000 figure was reached by identifying the count of weapons that could not be safely put through the automated disassembly system, along with 28,375 munitions that had been manufactured earlier and featured fewer safety mechanisms. That combined amount was subsequently reduced to 38,000.

Flamm emphasized that the tally was not final.

"We're not trying to hide anything, not trying to alarm the community," he said. "I don't want them to think I'm low-balling" the number of munitions that could be detonated (Dan Elliott, Associated Press/Denver Post, Sept. 29).

September 30, 2010
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The U.S. Defense Department has again trimmed its estimate on the number of blister agent munitions that could be destroyed with explosives at the Pueblo Chemical Depot in Colorado, the Associated Press reported yesterday (see GSN, Sept. 14).