With the destruction, in a sealed chamber, of one World War II-era projectile loaded with mustard agent, a Bechtel-led team in Kentucky has begun eliminating the final stockpile of U.S. chemical munitions, bringing the nation closer to its goal of permanently eradicating the weapons.
“Eliminating the nation’s chemical weapons has been a high-priority mission for Bechtel and the government for many years,” said Barbara Rusinko, president of Bechtel’s Nuclear, Security & Environmental global business unit. “To reach this day, at the final site, is a milestone of international significance and I congratulate our team.”
Destruction of the more than 15,000 mustard munitions will ramp up in the coming weeks at the Blue Grass Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant near Richmond, Kentucky, as the team works toward destruction of 523 tons of both mustard and nerve agent by the end of 2023. Destruction of the nerve agent is separately scheduled to begin later this year.
Dr. Charles Ball, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Threat Reduction and Arms Control, said the U.S. made the commitment in 1997 when it signed the Chemical Weapons Convention. “We made a commitment ‘for the sake of all mankind, to exclude completely the possibility of the use of chemical weapons.’ Every day, we are making good on the government’s commitment as expeditiously as possible, while ensuring maximum protection of the public, your coworkers, and the environment.”
The first munitions destroyed will be processed in a “static detonation chamber,” a proven technology that uses a robust sealed chamber to heat the munitions to up to 1,100 degrees Fahrenheit, until they detonate or burst. The detonation and heat consume the chemical agent and a sophisticated off-gas system captures and filters the exhaust.
Later this year, a larger set of nerve agent munitions will be robotically cut open and drained, with the toxic contents chemically neutralized and then treated with superheated water and high pressure, breaking the substances down to carbon dioxide, water, and salts.
The remnants will be disposed at permitted locations offsite and process water will be recycled back to the plant.
A sister plant in Pueblo, Colorado began operations in 2016. Both sites host inspectors from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to verify compliance with the 1997 treaty, signed by more than 190 nations.
The Blue Grass Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant was built and is being operated under contract to the Department of Defense’s Program Executive Office for Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternatives. Bechtel Parsons Blue Grass is a joint venture of Bechtel National Inc. and Parsons Government Services Inc.
Since the 1980s, Bechtel has had an active role in U.S. and international efforts to eliminate chemical weapons. With the destruction of the stockpiles underway in Colorado and Kentucky, along with previous projects in Alabama and Maryland, Bechtel will have safely eliminated nearly 5,000 tons of chemical weapons in rockets, artillery rounds, mortar shells, and storage canisters at four of the nine original U.S. storage depots.