Full-scale chemical agent destruction operations at the Blue Grass Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant (BGCAPP) on the Blue Grass Army Depot (BGAD) began Jan. 17 with the destruction of the first 8-inch projectile containing GB nerve agent in the main plant.
“This is another major milestone toward eliminating the total chemical weapons stockpile in Kentucky,” said Dr. Candace Coyle, BGCAPP site project manager. “With each munition destroyed, we are making Madison and surrounding counties a safer place to live.”
The plant will destroy munitions containing nerve agent through a two-step process called neutralization followed by supercritical water oxidation, known as SCWO. Automated equipment takes the munitions apart and drains the chemical agent. The agent is mixed with water and caustic to produce hydrolysate. The hydrolysate is then pumped from tanks to SCWO reactors where it is subjected to high temperature and pressure. The resulting products are water, carbon dioxide and a salt solution. Remaining metal parts from the munitions are thermally heated to more than 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit and can be safely recycled.
“Our highly skilled team is dedicated to the task of safely destroying the chemical munitions,” said Ron Hink, Bechtel Parsons Blue Grass (BPBG) project manager. “We’ve trained extensively for this stage of the project and we’re confident we can safely complete the mission.”
The chemical weapons stockpile at BGAD originally consisted of approximately 523 tons of chemical agent configured in 155mm projectiles containing H mustard and VX nerve agent, 8-inch projectiles containing GB nerve agent, and M55 rockets containing GB and VX nerve agent. In June 2019, the Static Detonation Chamber (SDC), an explosive destruction technology, began destroying the mustard stockpile. The SDC is augmenting the main plant and increasing worker safety, as it was determined the mustard agent had solidified, making those rounds difficult to process using the main plant’s automated equipment. As of Jan. 10, more than 15 tons of chemical agent have been destroyed in Kentucky.
Destroying 8-inch projectiles filled with GB marks the first nerve agent destruction in the United States in more than a decade, as the last VX landmine was destroyed at the Anniston Chemical Agent Disposal Facility in Anniston, Alabama, Dec. 24, 2009.
The Program Executive Office, Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternatives is responsible for destroying the remaining U.S. chemical weapons stockpile in Colorado and Kentucky. The organization oversees the contract for design, construction, systemization, operation and closure of BGCAPP with BPBG and subcontractors AECOM, Battelle Memorial Institute and GP Strategies. The project employs more than 1,250 government and contractor employees.
The stockpile sites in Colorado and Kentucky account for the last 10 percent of what was originally a national stockpile of more than 30,000 tons of chemical weapons. The U.S. Army Chemical Materials Activity destroyed the initial 90%, which was stored at seven other sites across the U.S. and on Johnston Atoll in the Pacific. Chemical weapons destruction in Colorado began in 2015. Both sites will complete destruction of chemical weapons by Dec. 31, 2023.