For Immediate Release
BLUE GRASS ARMY DEPOT, Ky. – Workers at the Blue Grass Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant (BGCAPP) have begun operating a new piece of equipment designed to safely eliminate chemical weapons.
On Jan. 27, a Static Detonation Chamber, known as the SDC 2000, destroyed the first rocket warheads that had been previously drained of GB nerve agent and stored in special containers.
“We chose the SDC 2000 to augment destruction operations in the main plant because it enhances worker safety in the processing of higher-risk munitions,” said Dr. Candace Coyle, BGCAPP site project manager. “It also supports the United States’ obligation to fulfill the Chemical Weapons Convention treaty commitment to destroy our chemical weapons by September 2023.”
The SDC 2000 will destroy the containerized, drained rocket warheads, which are considered secondary waste. The system will also be used to destroy M55 rockets that have leaked in the past and been placed in overpacked containers. M55 rockets found unsuitable for processing in the main plant and problematic undrained rocket warheads will also be destroyed in the SDC 2000.
Chemical weapons destruction operations began at BGCAPP on June 7, 2019. Trained operators have overseen the safe destruction of 359.3 U.S. tons of chemical agent as of Jan. 20. A total of 164 U.S. tons of chemical agent remains to be destroyed in Kentucky.
“The Blue Grass Chemical Activity is committed to supporting BGCAPP’s mission of safely demilitarizing the chemical munitions by the treaty commitment date,” said Lt. Col. Tyler S. McKee, Blue Grass Chemical Activity commander. “As start-up of the SDC 2000 commences, we will continue to facilitate munitions movement and monitor the stockpile to protect the workforce, public and environment as the Blue Grass team approaches this important milestone.”
“The SDC 2000 provides an opportunity to overcome the challenge of destroying problematic rockets in the main plant,” said Ron Hink, Bechtel Parsons Blue Grass (BPBG) project manager. “This path will help keep our workers safe as they continue to destroy the remaining chemical weapons at Blue Grass.”
“As the demil effort continues its final campaign, yet another asset is starting up to provide the needed capability to destroy the Kentucky stockpile,” said Craig Williams, Chemical Destruction Community Advisory Board co-chair. “The SDC 2000 will operate to deal with weapons unable to be processed in the main plant due to size or condition. This technology will provide the capability to deal with these problem rounds in the safest and most environmentally protective manner. It is another positive step towards completing this critical effort.”
The SDC 2000 is being used to destroy secondary waste, overpacked M55 rockets, M55 rockets deemed unsuitable for processing in the main plant and undrained rocket warheads.
In 2019, due to worker safety concerns, the Program Executive Office, Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternatives (PEO ACWA) decided to not use the Energetics Neutralization System in the main plant to process drained M55 rocket warheads. Instead, the SDC 2000 is being used to enhance worker safety.
The SDC 2000 uses thermal destruction technology to process the weapons. Chemical munitions or munition components are placed in a feed box, conveyed to the top of the SDC vessel and fed into the electrically heated detonation chamber. The high heat (approximately 600 degrees Celsius or 1,100 degrees Fahrenheit) deflagrates or detonates the munition, and the chemical agents and energetics are destroyed by thermal decomposition. Gases generated as a result of the detonation are treated by an off-gas treatment system that includes a thermal oxidizer, scrubbers and a carbon filter system.
This SDC will be the first of its kind to destroy nerve agent. It is a much larger unit compared to the SDC used to destroy mustard agent at BGCAPP, which is being retrofitted to destroy containerized, drained rocket warheads containing residual amounts of VX nerve agent. Design changes were incorporated into the SDC 2000 as compared to other SDC units. For example, the chamber includes a hydraulic locking ring to ensure an airtight seal is created between the loading chamber and detonation chamber, more effectively preventing the release of any chemical agent. Additionally, automated loading equipment will be used to minimize worker handling of the containerized munitions and to enhance safety.
PEO ACWA is responsible for destroying the remaining U.S. chemical weapons stockpile in Colorado and Kentucky. The organization oversees the contract for design, construction, systemization, operation and closure of BGCAPP with BPBG and teaming partners Amentum, Battelle Memorial Institute and GP Strategies. The project also works closely with community advisory groups to keep them informed about chemical weapons destruction progress.
The chemical weapons stockpile at the depot originally consisted of 523 U.S. tons of chemical agent. In June 2019, the BGCAPP team began destroying more than 15,000 155mm projectiles containing mustard agent using an SDC 1200. The mustard agent destruction campaign was completed in September 2021. A “campaign” refers to destruction of a particular type of chemical munition. From January through May 2020, nearly 4,000 8-inch projectiles containing GB nerve agent were destroyed at BGCAPP. From January through May 2021, nearly 13,000 155mm projectiles containing VX nerve agent were destroyed. From July 2021 through April 2022, more than 17,000 M55 rockets containing VX nerve agent were destroyed. Currently, more than 51,000 M55 rockets containing GB nerve agent are being destroyed in the main plant.
The stockpile sites in Colorado and Kentucky account for the last 10% of what was originally a national stockpile of more than 30,000 tons of chemical weapons. The U.S. Army Chemical Materials Activity (then Agency) destroyed the initial 90%, which was stored at seven other sites across the U.S. and on Johnston Atoll in the Pacific. Chemical weapons destruction in Colorado began in 2015.
Both sites are on target to complete destruction of the chemical weapons stockpile by the Chemical Weapons Convention treaty commitment of Sept. 30, 2023. U.S. public law mandates destruction by Dec. 31, 2023. After chemical weapons destruction operations are completed, the closure phase will continue beyond that time for an additional three to four years. The Blue Grass Army Depot will continue its conventional weapons missions beyond the BGCAPP closure phase.
Photo caption: The first boxes of containerized, drained GB nerve-agent rocket warheads sit on a conveyor to be processed in the Blue Grass Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant Static Detonation Chamber (SDC) 2000 Jan. 27, 2023. The SDC 2000 is being used to destroy secondary waste, overpacked M55 rockets, M55 rockets deemed unsuitable for processing in the main plant and undrained rocket warheads. (U.S. Army photo)