2005 CPEO Military List Archive

From: Lenny Siegel <lsiegel@cpeo.org>
Date: 19 Nov 2005 01:36:24 -0000
Reply: cpeo-military
Subject: [CPEO-MEF] Kentucky Pilot Plant for Destruction of Chemical Weapons Safely Designed ...
The National Academies
November 14, 2005

Kentucky Pilot Plant for Destruction of Chemical Weapons Safely
Designed, But More Tests Needed 

WASHINGTON -- The design of a pilot plant that will destroy chemical
weapons at the Blue Grass Army Depot in Richmond, Ky., includes all the
steps required for safe and effective destruction of the weapons, but
these steps have yet to be integrated and tested, says a new report from
the National Academies' National Research Council. Some operational
issues also need to be addressed, said the committee that wrote the
report. And to save time and money, large amounts of wastes that are
uncontaminated by chemical agents should be disposed of off-site at
qualified waste-disposal facilities.

"With the current design at Blue Grass, we anticipate that the chemical
agents can be safely and effectively destroyed," said Robert A. Beaudet,
committee chair and professor of chemistry, University of Southern
California, Los Angeles. "But the contractor still must integrate the
individual treatment steps into a total process. Also, the methods
designed to treat secondary wastes are immature and untested, for the
most part." 

The U.S. Army asked the Bechtel Parsons Blue Grass team -- a joint
venture of Bechtel National Inc. and Parsons Infrastructure and
Technology Group -- to devise a plan for a pilot plant capable of safely
and effectively destroying the stored chemical munitions. The design
plan was submitted to the Army in July 2004, and operations at the plant
are expected to start in 2008. The chemical munitions stored at the Blue
Grass Army Depot will be destroyed by "neutralization" -- a process
using a sodium hydroxide solution -- followed by oxidation in water
under very high temperature and pressure. 

Individual plant operations have never been deployed together as a
single, integrated process, increasing the likelihood of unexpected
complications during the plant's start-up, the committee said. The Army
and its contracting team should be prepared to modify the operations as
design, testing, and construction proceed, the committee added, and
assumptions about the availability of first-of-its-kind equipment should
be reviewed given the possibility of failures.

Some of the techniques that will be used to destroy the rockets
containing the chemical agents must be improved, the report says. For
example, the machine that will be used to initially cut each rocket
should be altered to avoid the possibility of igniting the propellant inside.

After the chemical agents and various rocket segments are treated with
neutralizing solutions, the material that remains, called hydrolysate,
is treated by oxygen in "supercritical" water -- water at temperatures
greater than 705 degrees Fahrenheit and pressures about 220 times the
atmospheric pressure -- and thereby transformed into an environmentally
benign substance. But this process is very corrosive to the walls of the
supercritical water reactors into which the hydrolysate is placed and
can cause solid materials to form and plug the reactors. Although
methods have been developed to mitigate these problems, additional
testing is needed to confirm that these remedies are adequate, the
report says.

The supercritical water reactors that the Army plans to use have not
been tested on contaminated secondary wastes, which include storage and
packing materials, pallets, and the protective suits workers wear when
handling the rockets. The large quantities of uncontaminated secondary
wastes that have never been in contact with the chemical agent should be
sent off-site for destruction by qualified waste-disposal facilities,
the committee said. The Army should consider treating contaminated
secondary wastes with alternative approaches, including one that
decontaminates materials by heating them to 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit,
the committee added. 

While working with the Bechtel Parsons Blue Grass team on the design of
the pilot plant, the Army has provided the local community with
up-to-date information on the plant and the techniques that will be
used, the committee noted. The Army and its contractor should continue
to pursue and support public involvement and make the safety of workers
and the public a foremost consideration, the report says. The Bechtel
Parsons Blue Grass team also should consider inviting input from the
general public on risks associated with operations at the plant.

The study was sponsored by the U.S. Department of the Army. The National
Research Council is the principal operating arm of the National Academy
of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. It is a private,
nonprofit institution that provide science and technology advice under a
congressional charter. A committee roster follows.

Copies of Interim Design Assessment for the Blue Grass Chemical Agent
Destruction Pilot Plant are available from the National Academies Press;
tel. 202-334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242 or on the Internet at
http://www.nap.edu. The cost of the report is $18.00 (prepaid) plus
shipping charges of $4.50 for the first copy and $.95 for each
additional copy. Reporters may obtain a copy from the Office of News and
Public Information (contacts listed above).


For the original press release and a link to the full report, go to


Lenny Siegel
Director, Center for Public Environmental Oversight
c/o PSC, 278-A Hope St., Mountain View, CA 94041
Voice: 650/961-8918 or 650/969-1545
Fax: 650/961-8918
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