Monday, January 29, 2001

New options OK'd for weapons

2 chemical disposal methods get nod

The Associated Press

        LEXINGTON — Two new methods for destroying chemical weapons stockpiled at the Blue Grass Army Depot in Madison County received tentative approval from a group of Kentucky officials.

        The Kentucky group that reviewed the alternatives at a meeting Thursday included state environmental regulators, environmental activists and others. The contingent was part of more than 100 representatives from the Department of Defense, state environmental regulators and citizens' groups from areas where the nation's chemical weapons are stockpiled.

        Until recently, Kentucky had two options for destroying the chemical weapons at Blue Grass: Incineration or a chemical-neutralization process developed by General Atomics and tentatively approved last year.

        That process freezes the weapons, crushes them and neutralizes the extracted nerve and blister agent with chemicals and water under high temperature and pressure.

        Incineration of the 523 tons of nerve and blister agent stored at Blue Grass Army Depot officially remains an option, but the Kentucky group voiced its opposition to the method.

        “As stated in our previ ous report, high temperature or high-pressure treatment of agent is not likely to be acceptable to the public,” the Kentucky group wrote in a report that will be sent to Congress in March.

        The Army tested three more disposal methods last year. Officials at Thursday's meeting said two of those methods could work at Blue Grass.

        One method is similar to the General Atomics proposal, in that it neutralizes nerve and blister agent with chemicals and superheated water under high pressure.

        The other method getting a nod from Kentuckians uses an energized solution of silver chloride to neutralize the nerve and blister agent.

        The group rejected a proposal that uses high-pressure jets of ammonia to cut through weapons and treats the extracted agent with solvent.

        Picking the best method for Blue Grass is part of a process that won't be finished until next spring, officials said.

        The United States is bound by international treaty to destroy all of its chemical weapons by 2007. But officials have conceded that stockpiles in Colorado and Kentucky, where residents have so far thwarted the Army's preferred choice of incineration, will not be destroyed by then.

        Officials are now aiming to destroy the weapons by 2012, the deadline created with a five-year extension available under the treaty.


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