BGCAPP: Sept. 2023 completion eyed for destruction of U.S. chemical weapons stockpile

Originally published in the Richmond Register

During the Dec. 14, 2022 meeting of the Kentucky Chemical Demilitarization Citizens’ Advisory Commission (CAC) and the Chemical Destruction Community Advisory Board (CDCAB), it was estimated that the Blue Grass Chemical Agent Destruction Pilot Plant’s (BGCAPP) final chemical weapon destruction campaign will be completed alongside the destruction of the U.S. chemical weapons stockpile by Sept. 30, 2023.

“This could be the last time that we talk in an operational perspective in a December timeframe. Hopefully, by this time next year, it will have been completed. That’s my goal, that’s my desire,” said Assembled Chemical Weapons Program Officer Michael Abaie.

As of Dec. 9, 2022, 325.7 tons—62.3%— of the chemical weapons at Bluegrass Army Depot have been destroyed.

An efficiency test for rocket destruction was conducted in November. As of Dec. 2022, 29.47% of the GB M55 rockets have been destroyed. The main plant is destroying the GB M55 rockets at a rate of 140 rockets per day, but Ron Hink, project manager of Bechtel Parsons Blue Grass, says there are some days when over 200 rockets are destroyed.

“It’s comfortable. We don’t have to repair things, a lot of routine repairs...” Hink said. “(It’s) looking really good in the plant. It’s a good, safe, operation. Things are going about as well as you would expect.”

The project’s recordable incident rate for the last 12 months, as of Oct. 2022, is 0.31%. Since Oct. 31, 1,144 days have gone by without a lost-time accident. Workers at the plant also continue to follow CDC guidelines on COVID-19.

There were Two Class 2 permit modifications sent to the Kentucky Department for Environmental Protection (KDEP) in November. This comes after BGCAPP received a notice of violation from KDEP for failure to make a hazardous waste determination regarding a crystallized, white residue that formed on decontaminated warhead pallets that are in storage for their final destruction on Oct. 5.

According to Hink and BGCAPP site project manager Dr. Candace Coyle, the residue was identified as caustic in nature with no chemical agent present.

In a previous meeting, it was noted this final campaign to dismantle GB M55 rockets would be the longest and most dangerous overseen at the facility, due to the nature of the GB M55 rockets.

The static detonation chamber 2000 (SDC 2000) is estimated to begin operation by late Dec. 2022 or early Jan. 2023. The chamber will be used to containerized warheads that have been drained of chemicals, overpacked GB M55 rockets, and rockets deemed potentially unsuitable for processing at the main plant.

Construction also continues on the SDC 1200, which will be used to destroy drained VX nerve agent warheads and potentially undrained GB M55 nerve agent warheads.

At this point, over 21,000 rocket motors have reportedly been shipped to Aniston, Alabama, for destruction in SDC units.

Regarding the ongoing Supercritical Water Oxidation (SCWO) study, the chemical biological center is in contact with government and private agencies regarding the uses of the SCWO system at BGCAPP.

If no group informs the Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternatives (ACWA) program that they are interested in taking in the SCWO system, the usual Department of Defense disposition process will begin for it.

The EPA and Army Corps of Engineers have both expressed interest in SCWO. While the previously mentioned government entities and other groups have shown interest in SCWO, a hard commitment to obtain the system has yet to be given from any entity, government or private.

According to Bechtel Parsons Blue Grass, the project has spent $115 million in Madison County and its surrounding area. Richmond staffing is at 1,476, with 56% of personnel hired locally. To date, local payroll stands at $1.214.

CDCAB co-chair Craig Williams gave an update on an amendment to the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act introduced by Congressman Andy Barr. The amendment would have the Bluegrass Army Depot do a feasibility study for future uses of the disposal facility.

“I also want to point out that the NDAA National Defense Authorization has passed the House (of Representatives). It did include an edited version of Congressman Barr’s amendment to the NDAA on the feasibility study for what to do post demilitarization within the footprint of where the demilitarization facility was,” said Williams.

On Jan. 11, 2023, The Preparing for Closure Working Group will meet for the first time. They will discuss closing plans for decontaminating and decommissioning main plant rooms with individual health-based risk assessments for each room. Plans will also be made for decommissioning sampling, in-process monitoring, occluded space, unventilated monitoring, and resource conservation and recovery.

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