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Two ways to destroy Chemical Weapons.
September 27, 2002 11:47 AM   Subscribe

Two ways to destroy Chemical Weapons. When UNSCOM was in Iraq they destroyed in place tons of chemical weapons: VX, Sarin. and Mustard gas were burned out in the open. The effort to destroy the United States' aged chemical arsenal includes building special incinerators costing over 1.5 Billion Dollars each. If we didn't need them in Iraq why do we need them here? What's the difference? And now that the incinerators are ready for testing why is the goverment switching from burning to neutralization with water at three sites? Billion Dollar toilet seats?
posted by Mack Twain (7 comments total)

 
If we didn't need them in Iraq why do we need them here?

Umm...probably because the Iraqis living nearby weren't going to constitute a voting bloc the following November... Just a hunch.
posted by jalexei at 12:05 PM on September 27, 2002


Funny, Mack, i was just about to FPP this Wired article discussing the tactical diffuculties of disarming chemical and biological weapons in Iraq. The article talks about "Agent Defeat" -- smart-bomb style technology in the works for this kind of job, but states that it's marginally effective and not due to be ready until 2004. Why hasn't this angle to the whole disarm-Iraq debate received more attention? I'm asking this honestly, not as a rhetorical question.

[not meant to derail this thread, but it seemed more appropriate to put it here than in its own FPP]
posted by damn yankee at 12:05 PM on September 27, 2002


Many of these compounds contain high amounts of chlorine and fluorine. Low temperature combustion of these compounds can produce halo-dioxanes.

So, If you don't care about long-term health effects, by all means, burn the nerve agents in your campfires. Me, I'll stick to the 5000 C incinerators, thanks.
posted by bonehead at 12:31 PM on September 27, 2002


I seem to recall reading recently in the NY Times that the ones they're burning in Jersey are pretty close to cities - most of the ones covered in Iraq that I can remember were in sparsely populated areas, no?

I'm definitely not going to doubt the supposition that it has something to do with Iraqis being outside of the local constituency...
posted by whatzit at 1:22 PM on September 27, 2002


Billions for the plants? Pshaw. Eli Eco Logic has this tech down pat, and it's cheap compared to what's being described in the FPP links.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:57 PM on September 27, 2002


Mack, here's what the army says about the choice of neutralization vs. incineration -- basically it seems to boil down to populated areas not liking CW waste products in their air. It's not that much less expensive, and probably more so on a per-unit basis -- half a billion for one facility. Construction of the facilities is far over budget and has been delayed for years by local opposition (often expressed through Congress, who ordered the destruction in the first place), state and local paperwork hurdles, and federal environmental impact studies, almost all of which proceeded as roughly as possible with multiple trips to various courts.
posted by dhartung at 10:57 PM on September 27, 2002


I advised on the destruction of a major stockpile in Alabama, and high-temp incinerators ensure that the agent is completely destoyed. it could probably be done much cheaper, but dhartung's right about local populations being ultra-paranoid about toxic fumes. (The resulting fumes aren't exactly healthy, but comparable to the average toxicity of standard auto-emissions in suburban areas pre-lead regulations. )

The stockpiles in the US are also fully weaponized and more lethal, unlike the agent in iraq. the stockpile I was working on had 40 year old weapons that were corroding, and increasingly susceptible to autoignition as they got older, making them more of a potentially catastrophic danger the longer the they remained instact. (Most are stored in M55 rockets with a nitroglycerine-based propellent. The stabilizer agent degrades with age.)

local residents are either unaware or in denial about this risk, and as a result perceive fumes from incineration to be more of a problem than the possibility of combustion of a sarin stockpile that could result in a 500 square-mile-plus killbox containing over 150,000 people. none of the local politicians (including the congressmen and women have ultimate authority over disposal) have bothered to educate themselves or their contituencies on the issue. out of sight; out of mind.

The problem is that policy is almost always driven by public perception, and public perception in the area was that (a) chemical neutralization was both safer and viable, neither of which was true, and that (b) the more sophisticated the technology (and the more expensive), the safer it is. Because of (a), local activist groups keep getting injunctions issued against the army, stalling incineration, erroneously thinking that there's a better option and the gov't just isn't producing it. until someone corrects these misperceptions, the stockpiles will remain intact, and when incineration is considered, it will be at great cost.
posted by lizs at 7:27 PM on September 28, 2002


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