United States begins testing equipment for demolition of a major VX nerve gas stockpile

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Saturday, May 7, 2005

Testing began on a chemical reactor at the Newport Chemical Depot near Terre Haute, Indiana on Friday morning. If successful, the reactor will be put to use destroying the large VX nerve gas stockpiles stored at the facility over the course of the next two years. After the disposal project experienced several delays, the facility announced it would begin pumping VX into a completed disposal unit for testing. The unit consists of a chemical reactor in which the VX will be mixed with water and sodium hydroxide, heated to 194°F while mixed with paddles. The resulting chemical, called hydrolysate, is chemically similar to commercial drain cleaners and has similar properties. If the test is successfully completed , the unit will continue processing the VX until the entire stockpile has been neutralized, a process projected to take two years. Administrators expect to complete testing on May 10, 2005.

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According to the controversial plan, the finished waste product would be shipped to New Jersey for final reprocessing. The inert chemical would then be emptied into the Delaware River where natural attenuation would occur.

Residents near the proposed river disposal site in New Jersey oppose this idea. The contractor for the final component of this disposal would be the DuPont Corporation.

Background on Newport Chemical Depot (NCD)

Label for dangerous goods, class 2.3 (GNU license)

NCD is a bulk chemical storage and destruction facility in west central Indiana, thirty miles north of Terre Haute. Originally founded during World War II to produce RDX, a conventional explosive, it later became a site for chemical weapons manufacturing during the Cold War. It is now used to securely store and gradually neutralize part of the US stockpile of VX.

VX was manufactured by the U.S. in the 1950s and 60's as a deterrent to possible Soviet Union use. It was never deployed, and the manufacture was halted in 1969 after an order signed by then-president Richard Nixon.

In 1999, the Army announced it awarded a disposal contract to Parsons Infrastructure & Technology, Inc., a business unit of Parsons Corporation. Some 220 civilian Parsons employees work at the facility, which is supervised by an Army officer reporting to the U.S. Army Chemical Materials Agency, and a board of civilian government overseers called the Indiana Citizens' Advisory Commission, some of whose members are appointed by the state governor.

Security at the facility is controversial. A private security service, supplemented by a complement of Indiana National Guard soldiers, guarded the facility until April 14, 2005, when the soldiers were withdrawn. An Indianapolis television station has questioned security measures in some of its special reports.

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