By Sarah Hogsed
Register News Writer
MADISON COUNTY —
A change to the process of neutralizing the chemical weapons at the Blue Grass Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant will prevent the formation of cyanide that could be dangerous to workers, according to the project’s chief scientist.
John Barton presented the information Wednesday afternoon to the quarterly meeting of the Kentucky Chemical Demilitarization Citizens’ Advisory Commission and the Chemical Destruction Community Advisory Board.
The problem involved the neutralization of the energetics in the rockets, not the nerve agents, Barton said. Energetics are the fuel used to propel a rocket.
Scientists who performed laboratory testing to simulate the plant’s chemical-agent destruction method discovered in 2010 that small amounts of cyanide formed during the process.
Barton said the cyanide created by the process is not a public risk but could be dangerous to workers and require additional protective measures during future plant operations.
“This was a serious problem and we worked hard” to find a solution, Barton said.
The solution the engineers and scientists developed is to increase the temperature within the energetics neutralization reactor to 300 degrees during processing. Laboratory tests have found that 93 to 95 percent of the cyanide will be removed at that temperature, he said.
The remaining small amount of cyanide in the leftover mixture will continue to break down while in storage before going through the secondary Supercritical Water Oxidation process and no more cyanide will be formed, Barton said. Cyanide levels will be continually monitored.
The high-temperature strategy does not significantly change the overall method of destroying the chemical weapons and will not lengthen the process, he said.
In other business:
• Lt. Col. Christopher Grice, commander of Blue Grass Chemical Activity, discussed the upcoming project to separate 44 M55 rockets from their chemical warheads for testing. There is concern about the degradation of the rockets’ motors and how that will affect their destruction, he said.
Blue Grass Chemical Activity workers will conduct the separations that will occur within one storage igloo. The chemicals will be repacked into sealed containers, he said.
Workers are undergoing training for the procedure, and it will commence in late March 2014.
• Jeff Brubaker, ACWA site manager, talked about the implementation of Explosive Destruction Technology to eliminate the mustard rounds at the depot. The project’s contractor, Bechtel Parsons Blue Grass, has already received approval from the Army to proceed with the use of EDT, and the equipment that will be used, the Static Detonation Chamber, has been selected.
The mustard rounds are the oldest chemical weapons at the depot and many of them have solidified, which makes it more dangerous for workers to dismantle and process them through the pilot plant that is being constructed.
Workers will be able to process the mustard gas projectiles without first dismantling them by using EDT.
Brubaker said he expects the EDT facility, which has yet to be constructed at the depot, to be operational by the end of 2016 or by early 2017.
The remaining chemical weapons, which contain nerve agents VX and GB, will still be processed through the main plant.
Sarah Hogsed can be reached at email@example.com or 624-6694.
Information about Madison County resident Craig Williams’ recent trip to the Hague, Netherlands, to help with the international community’s plans to eliminate Syria’s chemical stockpile will be featured in Saturday’s edition of the Richmond Register.