Starting the year with several major projects complete or almost complete at the Blue Grass plant, program officials explained plans for 2023 during a Dec. 14 public meeting of the Kentucky Chemical Demilitarization Citizens’ Advisory Commission and the Chemical Destruction Community Advisory Board.
“Projecting where we’re going, this could be the last time that we talk from an operational perspective in the December timeframe,” said Michael Abaie, program executive officer, Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternatives, during the meeting. “Hopefully, by this time next year, we have things completed. That’s my goal, that’s my desire.”
The year began with the start of operations in the Static Detonation Chamber, or SDC, 2000. The SDC 2000 is destroying overpacked rockets that have leaked in the past, rockets deemed unsuitable for processing in the main plant and de-mated containerized, undrained rocket warheads.
The unit also will destroy containerized rocket warheads that have been drained of GB nerve agent in the main plant. Plant administrators said its technology enhances worker safety and supports the United States’ obligation to fulfill the treaty commitment.
The project also has filed environmental permits to convert the SDC 2000’s Earth-Covered Magazine to handle problematic rockets that have gelled or crystallized agent or other issues that make them unsuitable for processing in the main plant. The proposed permit includes using equipment already in use in the main plant to examine rockets and process the warheads for destruction.
The SDC 1200, originally used to destroy mustard-agent projectiles, continues being retrofitted to destroy containerized, drained rocket warheads that contain residual VX nerve agent. Administrators say the SDC 1200 is expected to be in operation later this year.
The progress puts the operation closer to the goal of safely eliminating the last of the nation’s chemical weapons stockpile by the Sept. 30, 2023, Chemical Weapons Convention treaty commitment, Abaie said. Those operational strides also have management preparing for the closure phase.
“A lot of paper already has gone into getting ready for closure, a lot of planning, a lot of reviews,” said Ron Hink, project manager, Bechtel Parsons Blue Grass, during the same public meeting. “We’ve got that going well ahead of the need, so we’re getting out in front of it.”
As of Jan. 29, more than 43% of the GB nerve agent M55 rockets have been destroyed. Those are the last remaining munitions at the Blue Grass Army Depot.