Static detonation chambers likely to be used to destroy Pueblo's final chemical weapons

Destruction of the U.S. chemical weapons stockpile located in two states has reached the 75% completion mark, with a combined total of more than 2,352 U.S. tons of chemical agent destroyed as of Jan. 14, 2022.

For the final push to destroy the remaining stockpile at the Pueblo Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant (PCAPP) static detonation chamberswill be used, a form of incineration that represents a change, including additional environmental permitting, in how stockpiles are being destroyed. If emissions tests come within ranges acceptable to state officials, the detonation chambers will help keep the country on track to eliminate the weapons before a congressionally-mandated deadline at the end of 2023. 

Throughout the disposal projects at Pueblo, and the Blue Grass Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant (BGCAPP), robots have been used to help dismantle the weapons in a process where shells are opened, bursters neutralized, and the steel is recycled. The mustard agent goes to a reactor and is rendered into thiodiglycol, a chemical compound then consumed by microbes in a closed sewage system. The final product is a kind of contaminated salt that then goes to a landfill. 

This process, used only on shells, does not work as efficiently and safely on mortar weapons. The static detonation chambers, or SDCs, are better-equipped to handle them, as well as any leaking or otherwise problematic shells that pose a threat to workers and plant operations. The chambers have fallen under the scrutiny of citizen watchdogs as they were not part of initial destruction plans in Pueblo. The site has faced scrutiny from the public for environmental and health concerns for decades.

“We have said from the very beginning of this program, ‘No, we don't want incineration,’” said Irene Kornelly, a member of the Colorado Chemical Demilitarization Citizens' Advisory Commission, which closely follows the process of weapons destruction.

However, concerns over the use of SDCs at the site have been put to rest by state regulations, she said, adding that the commission is convinced the plan won’t be a threat to community health.

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