The Blue Grass Army Depot (BGAD) has taken the first step toward expanding the capacity for which they can process nerve agent munitions by building a larger, additional static detonation chamber (SDC 2000) to process M55 rockets on site.
As of Wednesday, Commander Col. Joseph Kurz signed Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) which verified no anticipated significant environmental impact by the addition of the SDC 2000 at the plant, which was proposed early this month.
The proposed SDC 2000 will process drained rocket warheads, as well as overpacked munitions which are in larger, sealed, steel containers to keep stored. If BGAD were to process these munitions in the already standing BGCAPP Main Plant, personnel in agent protective suits would be required to open the overpack and remove the leaking munition, making it a higher risk operation.
"(The SDC 2000) is used for certain applications that the existing equipment is not able to be used for like overpacked rockets," Craig Williams, Kentucky Environmental Foundation executive director said. "Since the rockets are so big and known to be leakers, the SDC 1200 is not equipped to process those. We don't want personnel to have to access them. So rather than take that risk with workforce, the new SDC can properly dispose of these."
According to a draft of the proposed action for processing the agent, the modifications are "needed to increase worker safety, minimize equipment downtime and reduce the number of times personnel enter agent-contaminated areas," a former press release noted.
In addition to the environmental review documented in the assessment, more environmental permits are required for site preparation, installation and operation of any new equipment for processing the nerve agent.
According to Williams, the facility has only preliminary renderings and wouldn't be erected until sometime next year, with no definitive date of completion. He added that the new site would be of no cost to either the two cities or county, but would be funded through the Program Executive Office Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternatives (PEO ACWA) budget.
"Assuming that everyone with the Army chain of command and permit tours and funds are there, and all the necessary boxes are checked, we hope to begin construction as soon as possible," he said.
When asked if the mustard munitions in the SDC 1200 were to be destroyed before beginning construction of the SDC 2000, Williams gave a definitive "no."
He said that the mustard campaign would continue even if the plant is given the green light to begin construction on the new facility. That would mean there would be construction and demolition going on at the same time.
"The mustard rounds would proceed at the SDC 1200, and main plant would start their operations on schedule. The new facility will be constructed whenever all the boxes are checked to proceed," he said. "Nothing is dependent on anything else, we will proceed with it as quickly as we can and do as much as we can as long as it's safe."
He said there is no final timeline laid out on this project yet, but that the first step of the process was conducting the environmental assessment to apply for the permits.
He went on to say that he did not predict construction, if allowed, would hinder the federally mandated completion deadline of Dec. 2023 to destroy all munitions at the depot. According to Williams, the addition would do the opposite.
"The new SDC could facilitate keeping on or before the completion date extra by adding equipment to move forward," Williams said.
Once the SDC 2000 is built, Williams stated it's possible that they would continue to use the SDC 1200.
"A decision has not been reached, but as far as association with chemical weapons disposal, its job would be completed," he said.
He said also that the main plant, which will be utilized to process nerve agent projectiles by neutralizing the agent in the emptied rocket warheads that have energetics remaining inside and would be transported to the first SDC 1200 or new SDC 2000.
According to a representative from the Chemical Stockpile Outreach Office, as of July 19, a little over a month after operations began, the SDC 1200 has destroyed 1.7 tons of chemical agent out of 523 total tons, which accounts for 0.3% of the stockpile at the depot.
Reach Taylor Six at 624-6623 or follow her on Twitter at @TaylorSixRR.