The Richmond Register

July 3, 2008

Report: Weapons can’t be destroyed by 2017

Ronica Shannon

Transporting chemical weapons from the Blue Grass Army Depot to Arkansas and Alabama, as well as halting construction plans for the weapons disposal facility, are just a few among many alternatives the Department of Defense (DOD) has offered to help speed up the process of destroying America’s remaining chemical warfare.

The DOD recently submitted a semi-annual report to Congress stating that weapon stockpiles at Blue Grass Army Depot and Pueblo Chemical Depot in Colorado could not be destroyed by the 2017 deadline and suggested several alternatives.

“Destruction of the Kentucky stockpile (by way of Supercritical Water Oxidation) by December 2017 does not appear possible, but remains under study,” the report states.

The International Chemical Weapons Convention Treaty mandates the disposal of all chemical weapons by 2012, but in April of last year, the DOD acknowledged that the date is not feasible and proposed an extension until 2023. 

Reacting to such an extended program, Congress subsequently mandated a deadline of Dec. 31, 2017.

The DOD submitted three options for accelerating the rate of weapons destruction that include: providing special incentives administered based on the rate of disposal; transporting portions of weapons at the Blue Grass Army Depot and those in Colorado to disposal incineration locations such as Arkansas, Alabama, Utah and Oregon; and accelerating destruction schedules at both sites.

Even though transporting the weapons to alternate sites is an option given by the DOD, the report to Congress notes that doing this would help meet the 2017 deadline, but “confidence is low,” the report states.

To implement this option, the United States code deeming it illegal to transport chemical weapons over state lines would have to be changed. Changes also would have to be made to federal and state environmental requirements and military construction projects at depots in Kentucky and Colorado.

This is not the first time the DOD has altered plans to destroy America’s stockpile of chemical weapons.

“We’re sick and tired of the Pentagon creating delays by cutting the funding for the project or changing their mind on acceleration initiatives and then repeatedly telling the people of Kentucky that deadlines can’t be met,” said Craig Williams, director of the Berea-based Chemical Weapons Working Group (CWWG).

The CWWG has been a leading organization in the local fight against transporting weapons off the depot site.

“It’s difficult to fathom why the Pentagon is once again proposing the shipment of these deadly weapons over U.S. highways when it has always been considered too great a risk for our citizens,” Williams said. “Besides, no state wants to accept more weapons than they already have.”

Transporting weapons from the depot has been a long-standing controversy among local residents, and those in city government also have taken a stand against moving the weapons.

The Richmond City Commission passed an ordinance in 2005 making it illegal to move certain weapon-related chemicals on city streets.

Under the ordinance, any company transporting nerve agents within the city limits via street, road, highway, rail or other passageway can be fined between $2,500 and $5,000.

The DOD reported that the Colorado stockpile is more likely to be destroyed by 2017 when compared with Kentucky’s stockpile, but that the outcome for both facilities “remains under study.”

Colorado stakeholders also have long since been opposed to the suggestion of transporting chemical weapons off-site.

“We have always supported on-site treatment of the Colorado stockpile and that remains our position,” said Ross Vincent, a member of the Colorado Citizens Advisory Commission. “We also believe 2017 can be achieved everywhere if the Pentagon wants it to happen. If they don’t, they need to explain why.”

Ronica Shannon can be reached at rshannon@richmondregister.com or 623-1669, Ext. 234.