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U.S. Reaches New Milestone in Chemical Weapons Disposal
The United States has eliminated 60 percent of the stockpile of chemical warfare materials that it declared under the Chemical Weapons Convention, the U.S. Army announced yesterday (see GSN, Dec. 11, 2007).
The Army Chemical Materials Agency is expected by this summer to have destroyed 2 million munitions since the international pact entered into force in April 1997.
"We have increased our efficiency at destroying the nation's chemical weapons stockpile while maintaining the highest safety and environmental compliance standards," agency chief Conrad Whyne said in a press release. "This accomplishment is the result of a true team effort between our storage and destruction staff consisting of both government and contractor personnel, and I commend the dedication of the members of our highly skilled work force."
The United States declared 29,918 tons mustard blister agent, VX and sarin nerve agents, and other chemical warfare materials under the convention. Another 1,582 tons had been eliminated before the treaty took effect, according to CMA spokesman Greg Mahall.
Disposal operations have been completed on the Johnston Atoll in the Pacific Ocean and at installations in Indiana and Maryland. Work is continuing at incinerators in Alabama, Arkansas, Oregon and Utah, while construction is under way on plants in Colorado and Kentucky.
The pact requires the nation to eliminate its full stockpile by April 2012, but Defense Department officials have acknowledged that they cannot meet that deadline.
The risk of the release of chemical materials from storage has been reduced by 94 percent, largely due to full elimination of VX and sarin at all CMA disposal plants by December of last year, the Army said (U.S. Army Chemical Materials Agency release, April 28).
The Pentagon's Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternatives program would be in charge of eliminating weapons stored at the Pueblo Chemical Depot in Colorado and the Blue Grass Army Depot in Kentucky. Those sites are respectively expected to finish disposal operations in 2020 and 2023, years beyond the international treaty schedule and the 2017 deadline set by the U.S. Congress for full chemical demilitarization.
Program officials are seeking an extra $200 million annually from fiscal years 2010 to 2015 to speed the disposal process, Defense Environment Alert reported today.
The Pentagon is finalizing a report considering a plan for boosting personnel and operating the chemical neutralization plants at all times in order to finish work earlier than anticipated.
The funding proposal would "reverse the downward trend" in money allocated to the program and "eliminate the dip" in the budget for fiscal 2011, one source said. That would allow disposal operations at Pueblo to finish in 2017, followed four years later by work at Blue Grass.
Funding for the program has fluctuated significantly over the years, based on the level of importance the effort has received within the Pentagon, according to Defense Environment Alert. The Defense Department indicated in early 2007 that it would restrict funding, extending the period of time needed to finish disposal operations and the ultimate cost of the work. Last year, though, Defense Secretary Robert Gates pressed for an extra $50 million for the program, suggesting that the Pentagon was prepared to move more aggressively to finish off the stockpile.
The ACWA program is expected to cost roughly $8.2 billion (Defense Environment Alert, April 28).
June 14, 2012
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