US prepares to destroy the last of its chemical weapon stockpiles

The United States is very close to destroying the last of its declared stockpiles of deadly chemical weapons, it has been reported.
Christopher McFadden
Pallets of 155 mm artillery shells containing "HD" mustard gas at Pueblo chemical weapons storage facility in Colorado state, USA.

US Government/Wikimedia Commons 

In what should be received with universal celebration, the last of America's stockpiles of declared chemical weapons are about to be destroyed. Stored at a facility in eastern Kentucky, Blue Grass Army Depot workers are close to destroying rockets filled with GB nerve agent (aka Sarin), reports ABC News. This will end over 100 years of the existence of these terrible weapons and a  decadeslong campaign to eliminate a stockpile that, by the end of the "Cold War," totaled more than 30,000 tons.

Chemical weapons are now banned

During World War I, chemical weapons were introduced into modern warfare and caused the deaths of over 100,000 people. Even though the Geneva Convention prohibited using these weapons, several countries still accumulated them until the treaty was passed, which demanded their elimination.

The United States must dispose of all its remaining chemical weapons by September 30, 2023, according to the Chemical Weapons Convention, which was ratified in 1997 and signed by 193 nations. To this end, the Kentucky depot is currently disposing of the last of the 51,000 number M55 rockets containing GB nerve agent, also known as Sarin, which have been stored there since the 1940s.

“One thing that we’re proud of is how we’re finishing the mission. We’re finishing it for good for the United States of America," said Kim Jackson, manager of the Pueblo Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant. The storage facility in Kentucky has been home to mustard agents and VX and sarin nerve agents for several decades. In 2015, a disposal plant was constructed to address this issue. The plant has since been tasked with destroying these harmful agents using a process called neutralization. This process enables the agents to be diluted to a safe level before disposal.

Workers carefully load old weapons onto conveyor systems using heavy machinery at the Pueblo site. The weapons were transported to secure rooms where remote-controlled robots safely destroyed the dangerous mustard agent. This toxic substance was specifically created to cause skin blisters, inflammation of the eyes, nose, throat, and lungs.

The weapons' fuses and bursters were removed by robotic equipment, and the mustard agent was neutralized using hot water and mixed with an acidic solution to prevent any reaction from reversing. The byproduct was then further broken down in large tanks using microbes. The mortars and projectiles were decontaminated at 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit (538 degrees Celsius) and subsequently recycled as scrap metal.

They were sent to an armored stainless steel detonation chamber to dispose of defective and potentially dangerous weapons, where they were destroyed at 1,100°F (593°C). Kingston Reif, an assistant U.S. secretary of defense for threat reduction and arms control, said the destruction of the last U.S. chemical weapon “will close an important chapter in military history, but one that we’re very much looking forward to closing.”

Not all nations have ratified the treaty, however

Currently, only three nations - Egypt, North Korea, and South Sudan - have not endorsed the treaty. Israel has signed the treaty but has not yet ratified it. However, there are still concerns regarding undeclared chemical weapons stockpiles held by certain convention members, particularly Russia and Syria.

“It shows that countries can ban a weapon of mass destruction,” said Paul F. Walker, vice chairman of the Arms Control Association and coordinator of the Chemical Weapons Convention Coalition. “If they want to do it, it just takes the political will, and it takes a good verification system," he added.

Add Interesting Engineering to your Google News feed.
Add Interesting Engineering to your Google News feed.
message circleSHOW COMMENT (1)chevron
Job Board