The earthwork portion of site preparation for the chemical weapons destruction plant to be built at the Blue Grass Army Depot is 90 percent complete.

Chris Haynes, project manager for Bechtel Parsons Bluegrass, the contractor that will build and operate the chemical weapons destruction facility, gave that update Tuesday to the Chemical Destruction Chemical Advisory Board (CDCAB).

While security precautions will not allow a traditional on-site groundbreaking ceremony, the public will be invited to a “groundbreaking open house” Oct. 28 in the Keen Johnson Building of Eastern Kentucky University.

To say that ground has been broken for the chemical weapons destruction plant to be built at the Blue Grass Army Depot is an understatement.

“We’ve dug down 8 to 22 feet to reach bedrock” underneath the site, Haynes said.

“We’ve replaced the clay between bedrock and the surface with 65,000 cubic yards compacted rock aggregate,” he said. More than 7,000 truckloads of aggregate were transported along the Martin Bypass and out the reconstructed section of KY 52 (Irvine Road) to the site’s gateway.

The aggregate base resting on bedrock will make the facility less susceptible to earthquake damage, Haynes said. While major earthquakes in the Ohio Valley have been rare, the 1811 quake associated with the New Madrid fault in Missouri was felt in Central Kentucky.

Taking precautions to prevent damage from an unlikely earthquake is just one example of the many safety features incorporated into the plant’s design, Haynes said.

Since its beginning three years ago, work at the site has been accident free, he added.

Site preparaton will continue into 2007 as contractors erect a security fence around the site and construct a guard station, the facility’s first building. Other earth and concrete work will be performed as roadway lighting, communication cables and other utilities are installed.

The Army will decide on a plant construction schedule “around the first of the year,” Mike Parker, director of the Army’s Chemical Materials Agency told CDCAD, which includes local and state government officials as well as other community representatives.

In August, the National Research Council gave the Army “generally positive” evaluations of the super critical water oxidation (SCWO) process that is planned to neutralize the caustic product created when the chemical agents are “demilitarized” by mixing them with sodium hydroxide. SCWO then mixes the product with water and subjects it to intense heat and pressure.

Because SCWO has yet to be tested at the scale and flow rates proposed for the chemical weapons destruction plant, the NRC declined to describe it as a “mature” technology and recommended further testing, Parker said. SCWO has passed small-scale testing, he said, and the Army expects it to be part of the weapons destruction process.

While performing SCWO at another site is an alternative, “baseline planning” still calls for on-site SCWO treatment, Parker added.

In addition to SCWO, the weapons destruction plant will employ six other first-of-a-kind components, Haynes said. They will include a:

• Rocket cutter machine

• Metal parts treater

• Rocket shear machine

• Linear projectile mortar disassembly machine

• Munitions washout system

• Energetic batch hydrolyzer

Rockets armed with chemical agents will be separated from their motors and propellants by the cutting machine before the agent is extracted.

To remove any traces of gelled or crystallized chemical agent that might remain after the normally liquid substance is pumped out of the weapons, metal parts from the rockets and artillery shells will be washed and heated to 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit to eliminate any residue before they are disposed.

All of the these first-of-a-kind processes will be fully tested before that go into use, he assured the CDCAB members.

Some issues that remain to be resolved include the treatment and disposal of secondary wastes from the plant, but “working groups” have been assigned to find answers for these problems.

The next meeting of CDCAB is set for Dec. 12.

Bill Robinson can be reached at brobinson@richmondregister.com or 623-1669, Ext. 267.

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