Representatives of three companies and the U.S. Army Wednesday evening described four different technologies that could be used to destroy problem weapons at the Pueblo Chemical Depot.
The methods are under study because not all of the 780,000 artillery shells and mortar rounds stored at the depot will be able to go through a water neutralization process.
There are 547 weapons that have been packed in steel cylinders because they’ve leaked or been tapped for treaty inspections or quality control over the years and the Army has estimated that once the weapons stored here for decades start to come out of their igloos, some will be found to be leaking or will be too difficult to disassemble.
The Army’s Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternatives program, which is in charge of the weapons destruction work here and at the Blue Grass Army Depot in Kentucky, has released an environmental assessment saying there would be no significant impact. It’s used explosive detonation technologies at other locations without having to go beyond the assessment. If that doesn’t run into any major challenges here, the next step will be for the contractors, on the project, Bechtel, URS or both, to request bids from the providers.
It’s expected that they will want to move quickly so that some device is ready to use when the weapons start moving through the destruction process.
4 systems under study
The four systems under study are a Static Detonation Chamber, or SDC, built by Sweden’s Dynasafe AB, a Transportable Detonation Chamber, or TDC, made by CH2M Hill, a firm that had lost out on its bid to build the Pueblo demilitarization plant, a Detonation of Ammunition in Vacuum Integrated Chamber, or DAVINCH, built by Japan’s Kobe Steel and an Explosive Destruction System, or EDS developed by the Army.
Joseph Asahina of Kobe Steel called the DAVINCH an environmentally friendly device. The systems have been used to destroy 43,000 chemical weapons in Japan, Belgium and China. It detonates weapons inside of a vacuum chamber and the explosion, he said, rips apart the molecules of the chemical agent.
Ross Vincent, a Sierra Club member who serves on the Colorado Chemical Demilitarization Citizens Advisory Commission asked Asahina to provide some data on what kind of chemicals are left after the process.
Britt Bixler of CH2M Hill said that his company’s TDC uses explosives to create a fireball under pressure that destroys the mustard agent and then vents the waste into an expansion tank. It’s been used in Belgium, Britain and Hawaii, where some weapons were found on a range at Scofield Barracks and in Australia where some American weapons had been left behind after World War II and uncovered in a mining project.
Vincent asked Bixler for the same data on residual chemicals.
Steve Bird, a group leader in the Army’s nonstockpile materiel removal program, described the EDS.
Originally, it didn’t look like the EDS was a likely choice because it has operated more slowly than the other systems and the environmental assessment predicted it would take nine units to do the work of one or two of the others.
However, Bird said that the Army had been testing “six-packs” of 155 mm artillery shells and using new processes that cut the processing time in half. Bird said that to destroy the outside estimate of 13,000 problem weapons would only take three devices and use one-fifth of the space.
The EDS is a self-contained, transportable system that has a thick-walled, stainless steel explosive containment vessel. Shaped charges are used to blow open the weapons and the chemical agent is then chemically neutralized.
The EDS was used at the Pine Bluff (Ark.), Army Depot to destroy problem weapons and is currently in use in the upscale Washington, D.C., Spring Valley neighborhood where World War I-era chemical weapons were found buried.
Vincent questioned what would happen to the waste from the neutralization process and if the EDS could use the same chemicals as the water neutralization plant.
Larry Gottschalk, who heads the program that employs Bird, said that was under study.
“That’s encouraging,” Vincent said.
Harley Heaton a vice president with UXB International, Dynasafe’s U.S. partner, outlined how the SDC would work. The basic part of the system is a heated steel chamber with 6-inch-thick steel walls. He said that the device was designed to minimize handling of weapons, which is where accidents are likely to happen. The weapons are put on a conveyor and moved into the chamber where they’re heated until they explode and the chemical agent inside is destroyed. Heaton said that it has no wastewater emissions.
The SDC was used at the Anniston (Ala.), Army Depot where it destroyed more than 2,700 problem weapons. Some of those were weapons that robotic equipment being tested for Pueblo could not open safely.