Project staff turned an empty retail space in Richmond, Kentucky, into a training center for a potential new operation at the Blue Grass plant.
“We didn’t have any space at the plant site that would work for this purpose,” said Chris VanDall, project manager for the Earth-Covered Magazine (ECM) Rocket Operations Contingency. “This spot was perfect. It had room for everything we needed.”
Late in 2022, Blue Grass managers began discussing ways to handle GB nerve agent M55 rockets that might not be well suited for processing in the main plant. The ECM contingency, which uses several of the same types of equipment as in the main plant, is designed to be a potential solution.
When it came to preparing workers to staff the facility, a 15,000-square-foot former retail space was available in the Richmond Mall where Bechtel Parsons Blue Grass already leases space for offices and training facilities.
Maintenance crews mocked up a replica of the interior ECM footprint. A training procedure was developed, and inert munitions were brought in for workers to train with, VanDall said. Since mid-February, 32 workers, most reassigned from other positions, have been training toward certification.
“We are able to get ahead of the game,” VanDall said. “It allows us to practice how we will do business, to choreograph how we move about. It’s been very beneficial for us.”
From a safety perspective, conducting the ECM Rocket Operations Contingency would offer advantages over rocket operations in the main plant and reduce worker risks in handling rockets that may present unexpected challenges, according to an environmental permit modification filed by the program. These challenges may include things like excessive corrosion or grease, stuck Shipping and Firing Tubes, cracked bursters, and numerous other complexities, with some instances of a single rocket encountering multiple issues. If needed, the contingency process would allow operators to evaluate X-rayed rockets remotely and develop an approach for handling the identified anomaly, issue or challenge. The process will be governed by a strict set of procedures which includes a safety analysis of the hazards associated with the operations to ensure that personnel are protected.
Environmental permitting for the ECM project is expected to be completed by June. If management decides the process is needed, warheads will be de-mated from rocket motors in the ECM, then the undrained, agent-filled warheads will be containerized. Those will be transferred to the Static Detonation Chamber 2000 for immediate destruction or storage for later destruction. “Whatever the decision, we’ll have the people ready to go,” said VanDall, noting training will continue until mid-April.