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Chemical Weapons Destruction in Richmond, Kentucky


The Blue Grass Chemical Agent-Destruction
Pilot Plant is being built to safely destroy 523 tons of chemical
agent in rockets and artillery projectiles stored at the Blue Grass
Army Depot in Kentucky. The U.S. Department of Defense has
selected neutralization, followed by Supercritical
Water Oxidation, as the method to destroy the Blue Grass chemical
weapon stockpile. Under the charter of the Defense Department Assembled
Chemical Weapons Alternatives, preservation of public health,
safety, and the environment is paramount. Therefore, the plant
is being constructed, tested, and operated and closed
following federal and state regulations and codes. Today, the munitions are safely stored in
earthen-covered bunkers known as igloos, under the responsibility
of the Blue Grass Chemical Activity and the Blue Grass Army
Depot. Before we begin our journey observing the destruction process,
let’s take a minute to familiarize ourselves with a stockpile
of chemical munitions. The stockpile consists of three
types of munitions filled with three different chemical agents.
M-55 rockets with nerve agent Sarin, or GB and VX, 155-mm projectiles
with VX and mustard, or H (a blistering agent), and eight
inch projectiles filled with GB. There are several steps involved
in the safe and efficient destruction of the chemical weapons
stockpile, including: removal or separation of energetics,
which contain propellants and explosives; removal of the
chemical agents; neutralization of the chemical agents; neutralization
of the energetics; thermal treatment of the rocket
and projectile metal parts. Additionally, the byproduct from neutralization
of the chemical agents and energetics is caustic
waste water known as hydrolysate, which will require secondary
treatment using supercritical water oxidation. The Blue Grass
Chemical Agent- Destruction Pilot Plant consists of three
primary facilities, and several support structures on a nineteen-acre
site. Now, let’s observe firsthand how processing
stockpiled munitions occurs in the plant. Storage and processing
takes place in the Chemical Limited Area, which provides safety
and security for the munitions and the workforce. The two main
buildings that neutralize the chemical agent and energetics
are in this area. The control and support building – the brains
of the plant – houses the control room, and integrated control
system that workers use to operate the plant. The munitions
demilitarization building is where the chemical munitions are
disassembled using robots, and the energetics and agent neutralized
through an automated process. And the supercritical water
oxidation processing building, located outside the Chemical
Limited Area, houses reactors where a blend of agent hydrolysate
and energetic hydrolysate are subjected to very high temperature
and pressures in a secondary treatment process to destroy
the hydrolysates’ organic content. Before the destruction process
begins, munitions from the stockpile are transported to the
Container Handling Building – part of the Munitions Demilitarization
Building – via the Enhanced On-site Container transport system,
or EONC. EONC’s are designed to resist impacts, punctures,
crushing and fires. They also prevent release of chemical agent
into the environment in the unlikely event a munition should develop
a leak during transport. At the igloos, EONC’s are loaded with chemical
munitions, the door secured, and the seal verified before
transport to the Container Handling Building. The Container
Handling Building provides a safe and secure storage area for
the EONC’s for a ready supply of munitions to support continuous plant
operations. The EONC’s are monitored to ensure that no munitions
have leaked, and then unloaded in the unpack area, which is monitored
as well. EONC’s containing munitions that have developed
leaks are moved through an air lock to an explosive containment
vestibule inside the Munitions Demilitarization Building, for
unpacking by workers wearing enhanced, safe, personal protective
equipment. Processing begins as the munitions are unloaded and placed
on feed conveyors to start the automated destruction process,
safely behind the Munitions Demilitarization Building’s reinforced
concrete walls, which are more than 2 feet thick. Rockets and projectiles go through the same
neutralization process, but the method of disassembly differs
for each munitions. Rockets travel through blast gates
into one of the two explosive containment vestibules, and begin
processing at the rocket cutting machine. The rocket cutting
machine cuts the shipping and firing tubes surrounding the
rocket, removes the shipping and firing tube from the warhead,
and then separates the rocket into two major components: the warhead
agent field section, and the rocket motor propellant-filled
section. The motor and other non-agent contaminated parts
are transported to the Motor Packing Room for monitoring and
storage before being shipped off-site for disposal. Conveyors move
the rocket warhead through several blast gates into the Explosive
Containment Room. There, at the rocket shear machine, two holes
are punched through the bottom of the warhead and vent nozzles
through the top. Gravity drains the agent through the bottom
and wash water is sprayed from the vent nozzles to rinse out
the remaining agent. The drained agent is pumped to the agent holding
tank in the Agent Neutralization System Room for agent
destruction. The warhead then moves to the shear station where
it is cut into pieces which are transferred to the energetics
batch hydrolyzer for additional processing. The energetics
batch hydrolyzer neutralizes the energetics and any residual
agent by hydrolysis. Hydrolysis occurs as the rocket parts and
pieces are mixed with water and caustic, then heated at 240 degrees
Fahrenheit and aggressively mixed for three hours. Upon completing
the batch processing time, the remaining processed parts
and pieces are transferred to a shaker conveyor that drains
any residual liquid, while tranferring the pieces to the metal
parts treater for further processing. The remaining liquid,
known as energetic hydrolysate is transferred to the Energetic
Neutralization Room, for additional processing. Projectiles are disassembled in a different
manner. Projectiles are unloaded from the EONC and unpalletized
in the unpack area. The projectiles are manually loaded into projectile-handling system feed trays and transferred to the Munitions
Washout System Room for processing. Projectiles of all agent
types follow the same process in the Munitions Washout System
Room. A robot transfers the projectiles to a burst or detection
sensor, to verify bursters are not present. The projectiles then move to the Cavity Access
Machine for agent draining. The projectile nose is inserted
into a fixture and clamped into place. A ram driven into the
burster cavity collapses the burster well and allows the
agent to drain. High pressure water then flushes the agent liquids
and residues from the munition body. Drained agent and wash
water are transferred to the Agent Neutralization System Room for
processing. The empty projectile bodies are transferred to the metal
parts treater for final decontamination. The metal parts treater thermally decontaminates
metal pieces and projectile bodies by heating them to at least
1000 degrees Fahrenheit for a minimum of 15 minutes. The
army has shown this minimum temperature and time adequately decontaminates
metal parts and contaminated secondary wastes. The
Agent Neutralization System Room stores agent collected within
the agent storage tanks from the rocket shear machine and the projectile
cavity access machine, and rinse water from the rocket and
projectile high pressure washouts. Two agent neutralization reactors ensure complete
agent neutralization for each type of agent by mixing
the agent with hot water and caustic for approximately two
hours to two-and-a- half hours. After the specified processing
time has elapsed, the reactors are cooled, and the resulting hydrolysate
is sampled and analyzed. If required, additional processing
in the reactor is provided until agent destruction is verified.
After agent destruction is verified, the reactor contents
are pumped to the appropriate hydrolysate storage tanks to await
processing in the Supercritical Water Oxidation Building. Energetic Hydrolysate, created by processing
rocket warheads in the energetic batch hydrolyzer units, is transferred
and stored in tanks in the Energetic Neutralization System
Room. Three energetics neutralization reactors process
energetics, hydrolysate and condensate from the off-gas
treatment of energetics batch hydrolyzers to neutralize
the energetics and agent. After neutralization is verified, the
reactor contents are cooled and pumped to the energetics hydrolysate
storage tank. Before the energetics hydrolysate undergoes
the supercritical water oxidation process, it receives further
treatment. Supercritical water oxidation – a secondary
treatment process – blends energetics hydrolysate, agent hydrolysate,
and other additives together in the supercritical water
oxidation systems reactors. There, they are combined with water
under high temperature and pressure conditions, fuel
and air to yield products consisting of carbon dioxide, water
and salts. Sufficient time at temperature is provided
in the reactor to ensure destruction of organic compounds to
meet permit requirements. The liquid affluent is monitored
to ensure that it can be collected and reprocessed if necessary.
The liquid affluent is sent to the water recovery system
to recover and reuse about seventy percent of the water.
The remaining concentrated salt solution, also called brine,
is transported to a licensed treatment, storage and disposal
facility for final disposition. The Munitions Demilitarization Building is
equipped with an agent filtration area with a negative air pressure
system called cascading ventilation. Fresh air is continually
drawn into the building and can only return to the atmosphere
after passing through a series of carbon filter units that
scrub the air as it passes through the multiple carbon banks in
each filter unit. An agent monitoring system continuously monitors
between the carbon banks and the exhaust point as an added layer
of environmental protection. Together the army and the surrounding community,
in conjunction with the Bechtel Parsons Blue Grass team,
are working in a committed partnership to meet the highest
standards of safety, quality and performance for the safe destruction
of the Blue Grass chemical weapons stockpile. More information
about the Blue Grass Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant
project is available at the Blue Grass Chemical Stockpile Outreach
Office. Or by visiting the project’s social media and web
sites.

10 thoughts on “Chemical Weapons Destruction in Richmond, Kentucky

  1. good video learned allot, and i like the fact its a factory to destroy weapons and not to make them.

    Btw. the pointy rockets shown in the start looks sooo scary.. 🙂

  2. Why can't the Toxic chemWeapons and Nerve agents be decontaminated in 1 location instead of driving it 10 different places AND still have to store it???

  3. Chemical weapons was a loss of billions of dollars. Made them never used them now the cost to destroying them. Give tax payers their money back.

  4. i live about 100 miles away from this place and i think about it a lot, my dad gets real mad at me when i talk about this nerve gas. he thinks its all a lie , people want to live in a dream land , and if this stuff has a charge and can blow up then in a way at any time it could blow up .

  5. Why do we have these. Is it true that the U.N brought deadly Chemical poison that could kill us, into our Country. And Why we allowed it.

  6. we need more chemical weapons so we can povide jobs for Americans in perpetuity. the US needs more jobs with job security.

  7. Fascinating operation. My compliments to all those doing such dangerous work for the good of everyone.

    Hopefully we can make such hideous weapons no more than a grim footnote in history.

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