Program officials propose using upgraded equipment that could accelerate safe chemical weapons destruction at the Pueblo Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant.
“We’ve suggested using an Improved Cavity Access Machine, or ICAM, which would allow for the destruction of 4.2-inch mortar rounds in the main plant,” said Walton Levi, site project manager, PCAPP. “We’re confident this equipment would provide a safer work environment and improve the capability, reliability and maintainability of PCAPP.”
Currently, 4.2-inch mortar rounds are being destroyed at the Static Detonation Chamber complex.
The ICAM design is based upon existing Cavity Access Machine technology, robotic equipment that turns projectiles upside-down and hydraulically collapses the internal components to wash out the mustard agent. This method is safe and suitable for accessing the inside of 105mm and 155mm projectiles, Levi said. However, during the PCAPP testing phase, using this method for the 4.2-inch rounds was determined to pose a safety hazard to the workforce.
“To work with our existing Cavity Access Machines, a 4.2-inch mortar round would have to be sawed open to access its internal components and drain the agent,” Levi said. “In evaluating this method, it was determined it would cause maintenance, operability and safety challenges that could have posed a heightened risk to our workforce. An ICAM, which uses a vacuum-powered probe inserted into the top of the round, would eliminate this risk.”
The proposal is now before the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment review officials who will review the request and consider issuance of a permit modification before the equipment can be installed to destroy 4.2-inch mortar rounds in the main area of the plant. Approximately 93,000 4.2-inch mortar rounds remain in the Pueblo chemical weapons stockpile.
“The steps under consideration related to the 4.2-inch mortar campaign will not only better ensure we can meet the Sept. 30, 2023 Chemical Weapons Convention treaty commitment date, but also reduce the risk to the community from further prolonged chemical weapons storage,” said Michael Abaie, program executive officer, Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternatives. “We will be working closely with the environmental regulators of Colorado to ensure that any equipment improvements are properly permitted and meet local, state and federal environmental regulations.”