A technology often used at medical offices and airports is also making the final chemical weapons destruction campaign safer and more efficient at the Blue Grass plant.
“The RNDE probably is one of our greatest assets,” said Dr. Candace Coyle, site project manager, Blue Grass Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant, during a recent public meeting.
The Rocket Non-Destructive Evaluation (RNDE) equipment is sometimes called “the X-ray system,” because, like doctors looking inside humans or scanners for luggage at airports, trained technicians at the Blue Grass plant use the RNDE process to see inside M55 rockets.
Every rocket is examined for potential problems that may indicate the warhead needs special processing in the main plant. In some cases, it may show a “leaker,” when chemical agent has moved outside the warhead but is still contained in the shipping and firing tube. Plant managers say these rockets are better suited for alternative destruction options, such as the Static Detonation Chamber 2000, which was approved to augment the main plant by destroying munitions such as these.
RNDE technicians spotted the first leaker in late November. The image provided by the equipment also suggested the agent had mixed with the rocket’s explosive components. The rocket was overpacked and returned to storage for destruction later.
“This is huge. If we had not identified this in RNDE, it would have created a large amount of contamination in the plant requiring hours of cleanup,” said Dr. George Lucier, deputy chief scientist, Bechtel Parsons Blue Grass. “We could have cut the shipping and firing tube and then this semi-solid material would have spilled out onto the Vertical Rocket Cutting Machine and the floor.”
“We’re the first defense that catches these rockets before they go into processing,” said Vicky Jones, a lead operator in the Unpack Area where RNDE technicians work. “People at every step of the way could be put in danger if we miss something. The things we see make the system work better.”
Ron Hink, project manager, Bechtel Parsons Blue Grass, said with the help of the RNDE, crews have learned from handling and reviewing rockets in many different conditions. He said the lessons have helped operators develop options to allow continued processing of challenging lots in the main plant without having to stop or significantly slow operations, allowing overall processing numbers to remain above minimum thresholds.