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News from the National Academies
Date: Sept. 26, 2002
Contacts: Barbara Rice, Deputy Director
Corbin Arberg, Media Relations Assistant
Office of News and Public Information
(202) 334-2138; e-mail <news@nas.edu>

For Immediate Release

Alternative Technologies Can Destroy Chemical Agents Stored at
Blue Grass Army Depot, But Further Engineering Development Is Needed

WASHINGTON -- Tests show that any of three technologies could be used as an alternative to incineration for destroying the chemical weapons stored at the Blue Grass Army Depot in Richmond, Ky., says a new report from the National Academies' National Research Council. Although all three methods are capable of effectively destroying chemical agents, explosives, and propellants, each requires further treatment of the resulting waste so that it does not pose a hazard to the environment.

"The Blue Grass Army Depot is one of the two remaining stockpile sites without a disposal facility and where one of these alternative chemical technologies could be employed," said Robert Beaudet, chair of the committee that wrote the report and professor of chemistry, University of Southern California, Los Angeles. "These technologies don't pose a safety risk to surrounding communities."

The United States has been destroying its chemical munitions, principally mustard and nerve agents, to meet the April 29, 2007, deadline specified by the international Chemical Weapons Convention treaty. Initially the U.S. Army, with recommendations from the National Research Council, selected incineration as its method of destruction at all sites. Responding to the public's concern about the exact nature of emissions that would be released from smokestacks, Congress passed a 1996 law instructing the U.S. Department of Defense to explore and demonstrate alternative technologies and to stop construction at two sites -- the Pueblo Chemical Depot in Colorado and the site in Kentucky -- until these alternatives had been evaluated. Chemical weapons destruction requires unpacking the weapons, destroying the agent, and treating and disposing of all liquid, solid, and gaseous byproducts.

The Defense Department asked the committee to evaluate -- but not choose among -- three engineering designs. Two of the designs use hydrolysis, a method that destroys the chemical agent, explosives, and propellants using water or a caustic solution. In both designs, supercritical water oxidation, a process that decomposes substances at high temperatures and pressures, would treat the resulting waste to meet environmental safety standards. In some cases, waste byproducts could also be processed at plants that treat industrial hazardous waste. The two hydrolysis-based technologies have been proposed by ELI Eco Logic Inc., Rockwood, Ontario (teamed with Foster Wheeler Environmental Corp., El Dorado Engineering Inc., and Kvaerner Process Systems) and General Atomics, San Diego. These methods are well-understood and mature, the committee said. After piloting and some further engineering development, they could be implemented at the Blue Grass site.

The third alternative was proposed by AEA Technologies, Pittsburgh. It uses an electrochemical method in which the chemical agent is directly oxidized and destroyed by highly reactive silver (+2) ions. While this method could eventually also effectively destroy the chemical agents and other materials in assembled chemical weapons, the committee believes that the process design is complex, not very mature, and requires additional development and further demonstration before satisfactory implementation can take place.

Results from additional engineering design tests became available after the committee completed its work on this report. The committee has also analyzed these results, and its assessment is presented in a separate letter report, which accompanies the full report. The findings from the letter report are consistent with those in the committee's full report.

The study was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense. The National Research Council is the principal operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. It is a private, nonprofit institution that provides science and technology advice under a congressional charter. A committee roster follows.

The report Analysis of Engineering Design Studies for Demilitarization of Assembled Chemical Weapons at Blue Grass Army Depot is available on the Internet at http://www.nap.edu/catalog/10509.html. Copies will be available for purchase later this fall from the National Academies Press; tel. (202) 334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242. Reporters may obtain a pre-publication copy from the Office of News and Public Information (contacts listed above). The letter report, Update on the engineering design studies evaluated in the NRC report, Analysis of Engineering Design Studies for Demilitarization of Assembled Chemical Weapons at Blue Grass Army Depot (September 2002) is available on the Internet only at http://books.nap.edu/catalog/10515.html.


NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL
Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences
Board on Army Science and Technology

Committee on Review and Evaluation of Alternative Technologies for
Demilitarization of Assembled Chemical Weapons

Robert A. Beaudet (chair)
Professor of Chemistry
University of Southern California
Los Angeles

Richard J. Ayen
Director of Technology
Waste Management Inc. (retired)
Wakefield, R.I.

Joan B. Berkowitz
Managing Director
Farkas Berkowitz and Co.
Washington, D.C.

Ruth M. Doherty
Technical Adviser
Energetic Materials Research and Technology Department
Naval Surface Warfare Center
Indian Head, Md.

Willard C. Gekler
Independent Consultant
Irvine, Calif.

Sheldon E. Isakoff*
Director
Engineering Research and Development Division
E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. (retired)
Chadds Ford, Pa.

Hank C. Jenkins-Smith
Professor of Public Policy
George H.W. Bush School of Government and Public Service
Texas A&M University
College Station

David S. Kosson
Chair and Professor
Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and
Professor of Chemical Engineering
Vanderbilt University
Nashville, Tenn.

Frederick J. Krambeck*
Independent Consultant
Alexandria, Va.

John A. Merson
Manager
Explosive Subsystems and Materials Department
Sandia National Laboratories
Albuquerque, N.M.

William R. Rhyne
Independent Consultant
Oak Ridge, Tenn.

Stanley I. Sandler*
Henry Belin du Pont Professor and Director
Center for Molecular and Engineering Thermodynamics
University of Delaware
Newark

William R. Seeker
Senior Vice President
General Electric Energy and Environmental Research Corp.
Irvine, Calif.

Leo Weitzman
Consultant
LVW Associates Inc.
West Lafayette, Ind.

RESEARCH COUNCIL STAFF

Patricia P. Paulette
Study Director


* Member, National Academy of Engineering