Sunday, November 10, 2013

Exclusive: Inside Chemical Weapons Destruction Plant(with video)

RICHMOND, KY (WAVE) - The military is storing deadly sarin and VX nerve gas about 100 miles from Louisville and destroying it is an enormous challenge for the US Department of Defense.

"This is the last of the chemical weapons destruction in the United States," said Jeff Brubaker, project manager for $2 billion, 340,000 square foot chemical weapon destruction plant at the Blue Grass Army Depot in Richmond.

Construction is almost three quarters finished but the plant still six or seven years from being fully operational and starting the destruction process of the 523 tons of sarin, vx and mustard gas stored at the depot.  That's about half as much as what Syria had when it almost drew the U.S. into military action by allegedly using chemical weapons on its own people.

The toxic agents in Kentucky are sitting on more than 100,000 rockets and artillery projectiles. Once the plant is up and running, estimated at 2020, the chemical weapon warheads will be cut away from the rockets, using what's known, quite simply, as a rocket cutter. 

Brubaker said there is virtually no room for error. "We're talking less than an inch of precision is what we're talking about," Brubaker said.

Cut the rocket in the wrong place and Brubaker said the chemical weapon could detonate. Unlikely, but not impossible. So the walls were built more than two feet thick, stuffed with reinforced steel to withstand and contain an accidental blast.  Once the warhead is successfully separated from the rocket, it's carried on a conveyor belt so the nerve gas can be removed.

At times the process sounds like it's right out of a science fiction movie. Once it has been drained of the chemical agent, the warhead is cut up into pieces and then picked up by a robot, which deposits it into an airlock to be destroyed.

The sarin and vx are then stored in tanks and broken down in reactors.

Brubaker said while some low level agent seeps out during that process, Brubaker said there won't be anyone in the room when the chemical weapons are being dismantled by the machines. And ventilation systems inside and outside the plant will constantly scrub the air to ensure workers, and neighbors are never exposed.

And won't be peacetime victims, of an arms race the military is trying to end.

The United States signed the international chemical weapons treaty in 1997 and has been working to destroy its stockpiles ever since. The military estimates Kentucky's chemical weapons will be eliminated around 2023.

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