CW destruction resumes at Pueblo
After a nine-month shut down for repairs, the Pueblo Chemical Depot has been brought back online and is to resume destruction of the US CW stockpile.The highly automated plant began a gradual restart this week, it could however take around 60 days to return to full operation.
The plant is destroying 780,000 decades-old shells containing 2,500 U.S. tons (2,270 metric tons) of mustard agent. The Pueblo plant uses robots to disassemble the shells and water to neutralize the mustard agent. Microbes digest and convert the remaining chemicals, and the outcome is a dry \"salt cake\" that can be disposed of at a hazardous waste dump.
The plant began operating in 2016 but has experienced a series of problems, including a leak in a storage tank, a tear in a spill-containment liner at another tank and vibration in pipes that threatened to damage pumps. Most operations stopped in September, after more than 43,000 shells had been eliminated.
The Army is still working on a solution to a separate problem: rust and solids contaminating the mustard agent in some of the shells.
The rust clogs pipes and strainers, and officials worry it will make it difficult for the robotic equipment to open the shells cleanly. Workers have to don protective suits and enter toxic areas to fix the equipment, increasing their risk of exposure.
Officials said they expected some contamination but not as much as they found.
The Army announced in March it wants to buy two closed detonation chambers, costing about $30 million each, to destroy 97,000 shells most likely to have excess rust and debris.