Monday, December 29, 2008

US Army Destroys Last of 44K Landmines Filled with Nerve Gas

From The Birmingham (AL) News
This GOOD news:

Last of nerve agent at Anniston Depot destroyed
2 million pounds of mustard agent left

Thursday, December 25, 2008
News staff writer

ANNISTON - The last of the deadly nerve agent weapons in the chemical weapons stockpile at Anniston Army Depot were incinerated Wednesday.

Destruction of all the nerve agent weapons means that more than 99 percent of the risk the stockpile posed to the community is gone, incinerator officials said.

"With the VX mines gone, there is realistically no risk for the community," said Timothy K. Garrett, site project manager at the Anniston Chemical Agent Disposal Facility.

Incinerator employees gathered in the control room to watch on monitors at 11:51 a.m. as the final M23 mine began its trip along a conveyor to be incinerated.

A munitions handler had written "Last Mine" and "Good Bye" on the top of the mine, and "End of VX Munitions" and the names of companies involved in the incineration on the bottom, before placing it on the conveyor system.

Seven minutes later, after machines sucked the VX out and into a liquid tank for incineration, the mine was dropped into another incinerator.

"Congratulations, guys. Merry Christmas to you," Robert C. Love, project manager for prime contractor Westinghouse, said to the group of employees.

Destruction of the last of the nerve agent was good news Wednesday for officials in Calhoun County, where residents have lived with the stockpile for nearly a half century and its incineration for the past five years.

"That's wonderful. It couldn't have happened any too soon," said Calhoun County Commissioner J.D. Hess.

The most recent batch of weapons destroyed consisted of 44,131 land mines filled with the VX nerve agent. Incineration of the land mines was about eight months ahead of schedule, Love said.

With the completion of this phase of the destruction, 54.6 percent of the stockpile has been incinerated, said Mike Abrams, a spokesman for the Army. In all, 361,802 munitions and 293,003 gallons of nerve agent have been destroyed. That includes 219,374 VX-filled munitions and 142,428 GB-filled munitions.

Workers now begin preparing machinery to destroy the remainder of the stockpile - World War II-era mortars, artillery and containers with nearly 2 million pounds of mustard agent. Incineration of mustard agent weapons is scheduled to begin in the next five to seven months but could begin sooner.

Mustard agent doesn't cause problems unless someone comes in direct contact with it, and that's why there is less threat to the public than with the nerve agents, Garrett said.

Workers will be trying to finish the mustard agent incineration by April 29, 2012, to meet the deadline in an international treaty to destroy stockpiled chemical weapons, he said. After destruction of the mustard agent weapons, the incinerator will be dismantled in a process that will take a few more years.

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