Next week, the U.S. Army will bring a $4.5 billion plant online with the intention of destroying America’s largest stockpile of chemical weapons. This was previously agreed to by international treaty.
Robots will disassemble the shells. And the plant will utilize water and bacteria to eliminate the chemical agent. The toxic mustard compound can cause death and serious harm. It does this by “damaging the skin, the eyes and airways”.
Working at capacity, the plant can abolish 500 shells per day on average. If it operates non stop it is estimated to finish its goal by the year 2020. The “full cache” of weapons to be destroyed tops 2,600 tons of mustard gas. The total amount of America’s chemical weapon stockpile is estimated around 30,600 tons. This includes both mustard and nerve gases.
Mustard Gas Outlawed
The use of mustard gas was outlawed by the Geneva Convention in 1920. This occurred after the horrific results of its use in WWII. The Chemical Weapons Convention was signed in the 1990s. This banned the stockpiling and use of chemical weapons.
From 1967-1970 the Army dumped thousands of tons of “chemical warfare agents and ammunition into the sea as part of Operation Cut Holes and Sink ‘Em (CHASE).” In 1972, Congress passed a law known as the Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act. This act prohibited this kind of dumping.
The Army has outlined two different methods of dealing with the toxic weapons. Any shells which are damaged, leaking, or otherwise permeated will be put in a container with 9-inches walls. Explosives will then detonate the shells. The mustard gas released will then be introduced to other chemicals. The gas will then change to a less harmful substance.
The second method goes the way of the robots: dismantling, neutralizing and letting bacteria have the rest. They are then sent off to a hazardous waste dump and are stored for safe keeping.