Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Science/Environment

February 19, 2010

Beleaguered US to blow up its chemical stockpiles

RICHMOND, Ky. — Under the gun to destroy the U.S. chemical weapons stockpile — and now all but certain to miss their deadline — Army officials have a plan to hasten the process: Blow some of them up.

The Army would use explosives to destroy some of the Cold War-era weapons, which contain some of the nastiest compounds ever made, in two communities in Kentucky and Colorado that fought down another combustion-based plan years ago.

Some who live near the two installations worry it's a face-saving measure, driven by pressure from U.S. adversaries, that puts the safety of citizens below the politics of diplomacy and won't help the U.S. meet an already-blown deadline.

The residents' sensitivity is understandable.

A concrete guard tower with dark windows looms over a double row of fences deep inside the Army's Pueblo Chemical Depot some 120 miles south of Denver, and a sign in red letters warns, "Use of deadly force authorized."

Inside bunkers, locked behind the fences, the slender gray shells are stacked on pallets or stored in boxes. Though many of the shells are more than 50 years old, they look new. The bunkers, called igloos, are made of 12- to 18-inch-thick reinforced concrete covered with a deep mound of earth.

Only 500 to 1,000 of the weapons are believed to be leaking or in need of immediate attention. Still, the Army wants to use explosives to destroy all 125,000 of them.

"I'm not in favor of that," said Marcello Soto, a retired depot worker who lives in Avondale, just south of the Pueblo depot. He worries the chemicals "would get up in the atmosphere or the air, and do some damage."

Environmentalists who years ago successfully blocked a plan to burn weapons containing mustard agent at the Pueblo depot and another in Richmond, Ky., just south of Lexington, say blowing up some of the weapons in a detonation chamber would be worse than burning them.

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