Almost a year after beginning destruction of mustard munitions at the Blue Grass Chemical Agent Destruction Pilot Plant, full-scale operations to destroy the first 8-inch projectiles containing GB nerve agent began at the main plant last week.
According to a press release sent out by the Blue Grass Chemical Stockpile Outreach Office, Candace Coyle, the BGCAPP site project manager called this a milestone event for Madison County and Kentucky.
"This is another major milestone toward eliminating the total chemical weapons stockpile in Kentucky," Coyle said. "With each munition destroyed, we are making Madison and surrounding counties a safer place to live."
The release notes the plant will destroy munitions containing GB agent through a two-step process called neutralization followed by supercritical water oxidation, or SCWO.
Automated equipment takes the munitions apart and drains the chemical agent. The agent is mixed with water and caustic to produce hydrolysate, the release explains. The hydrolysate is then pumped from tanks to SCWO reactors where it is subjected to high temperature and pressure. The resulting products are water, carbon dioxide and a salt solution. Remaining metal parts from the munitions are thermally heated to more than 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit and can be safely recycled.
"Our highly skilled team is dedicated to the task of safely destroying the chemical munitions," said Ron Hink, Bechtel Parsons Blue Grass (BPBG) project manager. "We've trained extensively for this stage of the project and we're confident we can safely complete the mission."
In June of 2019, the static detonation chamber (SDC) began destruction of the mustard stockpile, and as of Jan. 2020, has destroyed more than 15 tons of said stockpile.
The facility housed at the Blue Grass Army Depot in Madison County has a mandated deadline for destruction of 523 tons of munitions by Dec. 31, 2023.
"The chemical weapons stockpile at BGAD originally consisted of approximately 523 tons of chemical agent configured in 155mm projectiles containing H mustard and VX nerve agent, 8-inch projectiles containing GB nerve agent, and M55 rockets containing GB and VX nerve agent," the release states.
Destroying 8-inch projectiles filled with GB marks the first nerve agent destruction in the United States in more than a decade, as the last VX landmine was destroyed at the Anniston Chemical Agent Disposal Facility in Anniston, Alabama, Dec. 24, 2009.
Also recently announced at the previous Citizen's Chemical Advisory Board meeting in December, work has begun at the main plant site to build a second detonation chamber (SDC 2000) to help process M55 rockets on site.
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 more risky operation.
It wasn't until July that the document of Finding of No Significant Impact was signed verifying there's no anticipated significant environmental impact made by the addition of the SDC 2000 at the plant.
In December, Coyle reported preparations for the new facility's construction were initiated with the approval of a temporary authorization request by the Kentucky Department for Environmental Protection.
"It is great because it was in the spring that we decided to make this change, and now we are boots on the ground moving forward with the new facility," she said.
Reach Taylor Six at 624-6623 or follow her on Twitter @TaylorSixRR.