Kentucky is Home to the Last of America's Chemical Weapons
The U.S. has destroyed 90 percent of its chemical weapons – but thousands of aging rockets, laced with deadly nerve agents, remain in storage near Richmond.
The Blue Grass Army Depot holds 523 tons of chemical agents, and will be the last of the country's nine storage sites to destroy its stockpile.
The Chemical Weapons Convention, a 1997 treaty entered into by 190 countries, outlaws the use, production and stockpiling of these lethal weapons.
Craig Williams has been a citizens' watchdog in Kentucky since the early 1980s.
"Once we're done, the United States has fulfilled its international obligations,” he says. “And so, obviously the spotlight is on us as to, 'When are you going to get done? Do you have the funding to complete it? Do you have the workforce to complete it?'"
Other than Kentucky, Colorado has the other remaining stockpile, which is scheduled to complete disposal by 2020. The job will take longer here in Kentucky.
Site project manager Jeff Brubaker says work on the Blue Grass Chemical Agent Destruction Pilot Plant will be finished next year, but testing the complex systems will take through 2018. Then, he says he's hopeful disposal will finally begin on the weapons filled with GB and VX nerve agent.
"We're only going to proceed when we're confident that we're going to be successful and we will safely operate the facility," he states.
The target date for closing the plant is 2023. Brubaker says the cost of the Kentucky project, from design to closure, is an estimated $5.3 billion.
Craig Williams says the U.S. will spend close to $40 billion to get rid of its entire stockpile, much more than the military's original estimate in 1985 of $1.8 billion.
Williams says Kentucky is last, in large part, because the Pentagon originally wanted to burn the chemical weapons at Blue Grass. That triggered a public backlash, but conflict eventually turned to cooperation and consensus.
"It's unfortunate that it's taken so long, but there was 15 years of foot-dragging by the Pentagon that created this situation,” he says. “But, here we are now. I feel safe with the technology and with the personnel that are in charge of safely storing the material until it's time to start disposing of it."
The U.S. is one of five treaty signers that hasn't completely destroyed its stockpiles. The others are Russia, Iraq, Libya and Syria. And six countries, including North Korea, Egypt and Israel, are not party to the treaty.