On July 7, 2023, the Blue Grass Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant, or BGCAPP, destroyed the last munition in the declared U.S. chemical weapons stockpile at the Blue Grass Army Depot, known as BGAD, near Richmond, Kentucky. The U.S. Department of Defense’s Program Executive Office, Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternatives, or PEO ACWA, is responsible for the safe and environmentally compliant destruction of these weapons and closure of the destruction facilities. The safety of the workforce, neighboring communities and environment is the program’s top priority. The destruction of the last munitions met the Chemical Weapons Convention, or CWC, treaty commitment of Sept. 30, 2023. U.S. Public Law mandated stockpile destruction by Dec. 31, 2023.
The Blue Grass project consists of three destruction facilities and their support buildings:
- The main plant, which destroyed nerve agent contained in rockets and projectiles
- The existing Static Detonation Chamber (SDC), now known as the SDC 1200, destroyed mustard agent contained in projectiles. It is being modified to destroy containerized, drained rocket warheads containing residual amounts of VX nerve agent
- The SDC 2000 destroyed overpacked rockets and rocket warheads, as well as rockets not suitable for processing in the main plant during operations. It is now destroying containerized, drained rocket warheads containing residual amounts of GB nerve agent
Now that the last chemical weapons have been destroyed, workers must still destroy agent-related material such as containerized, drained rocket warheads with agent residue and non-contaminated rocket motors and agent hydrolysate. These items are all considered secondary waste but are tracked to destruction by international verification inspectors with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. The Blue Grass SDC units will destroy the drained warheads, while the rocket motors are shipped off site for destruction in the Anniston, Alabama, SDC unit. The hydrolysate was shipped to Veolia North America near Port Arthur, Texas, for final disposal.
The facilities will be closed in a safe, environmentally protective and compliant manner. The process of chemical agent destruction facility closure involves five major factors and is sequenced to occur in compliance with all permits, regulations and requirements. These include:
- Decontamination: removal of residual chemical agent contamination to safe and environmentally protective levels, as prescribed by permits
- Decommissioning: rendering equipment safe for removal and eventual demolition or follow-on use
- Dispositioning: transfer of government personal property for reuse, sale, recycling or disposal; and reconfiguring real property for return to BGAD
- Demolition: removal of facilities not required for future Army use
- Administrative closeout: closure of environmental permits, closing of contracts and interagency agreements and archiving of records
Closure of BGCAPP’s main plant will be more involved and take longer than closure of the SDC units, due to its size and complexity. The Munitions Demilitarization Building contains multiple rooms and numerous pieces of equipment that will require decontamination, decommissioning and dispositioning before its demolition.
The technology selected to destroy nerve agent in Kentucky was neutralization followed by supercritical water oxidation, or SCWO. The decision was made to not use the SCWO system to process hydrolysate, the product of the neutralization process. The fully constructed SCWO system will be decommissioned and demolished if not requisitioned by another agency or entity.
Once destruction of the containerized, drained VX rocket warheads as agent-contaminated secondary waste is completed, this facility will go through the five main steps of closure. As the facility is smaller and less complex than the main plant and is not enclosed in steel-reinforced concrete, the closure process is expected to take less time and manpower. The SDC unit is considered personal property (e.g., end item, material, spares and repair parts), as opposed to real property (e.g., land, buildings, utility systems and other infrastructure), and is being considered for reuse by other government organizations.
Once destruction of the containerized, drained GB rocket warheads as agent-contaminated secondary waste is finished, the facility will undergo closure just as the SDC 1200 will. This larger SDC unit is also being considered for reuse within governmental organizations.
Any buildings used directly for chemical agent destruction, such as the Munitions Demilitarization Building, will be demolished. Other buildings and infrastructure may be retained by BGAD as real property, as determined by U.S. Army mission requirements. Buildings and infrastructure not retained by the Army will be demolished as a part of the PEO ACWA closure process. As part of the disposition process, personal property, such as uncontaminated or decontaminated equipment, tools, excess parts and office furniture, will be screened for reuse within the Army and other federal organizations prior to being made available to the public as surplus.
Skilled, trained and experienced personnel are the hallmark of the project, with many having previous destruction and closure experience from other U.S. chemical demilitarization facilities. As the project transitions from operations to closure, the workforce will be drawn down as activities conclude within their areas of expertise. To retain these qualified, experienced people, the government and contractor companies have programs in place to realign personnel with other available positions within their structures. Additionally, various government, community and business groups are investigating possibilities for retaining skilled personnel through other local business opportunities.
As demolition activities ramp up, the workforce will shift to a commercial contractor focus, with administrative, safety and other positions remaining from operations.
The highest priority at BGCAPP is to ensure the utmost protection to the workforce, community and environment. During closure, BGCAPP continues to operate under local, state and federal laws and regulations. The closure process is principally governed under a hazardous waste permit issued by the Kentucky Department for Environmental Protection (KDEP) under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), as well as other applicable environmental regulations and permits administered by KDEP and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The end stage of the closure phase for each facility is the closeout of the RCRA and other permits, a major part of the Administrative Closeout phase.
Another key element of BGCAPP closure is the Kentucky Chemical Demilitarization Citizens’ Advisory Commission, or CAC, and its subcommittee, the Chemical Destruction Community Advisory Board, or CDCAB. The CAC and CDCAB hold joint public meetings on a regular basis. These meetings provide a forum for the BGCAPP staff, government officials, PEO ACWA leadership, members of the commission and the public to exchange information regarding chemical weapons destruction and plant closure in Kentucky. The CAC will remain active until either the end of closure activities or upon the request of the Kentucky governor. At BGCAPP, a specific working group meets on a regular basis for citizens to provide input associated with the closure phase. For information on how to get involved, please visit the BGCAPP Public Involvement website page.
BGAD originally stored 523 U.S. tons of mustard agent and nerve agents. The mission of the Blue Grass Chemical Activity, or BGCA, was to support delivery of chemical munitions to BGCAPP while safely securing, storing and monitoring the chemical weapons stockpile. BGCA will also go through a closure phase. BGAD will continue its conventional weapons missions beyond the closure of BGCAPP and BGCA. Also, the Kentucky Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program will close approximately six months after all containerized, drained rocket warheads containing residual amounts of chemical agent are destroyed by the SDC units.