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Weapons Destruction Will Miss Deadline

July 2, 2008

By John Norton, The Pueblo Chieftain, Colo.

Jul. 2–The Defense Department agency responsible for weapons destruction programs in Pueblo, and at the Blue Grass Army Depot in Kentucky, reaffirmed to Congress this week that it is not going to finish the work by a treaty deadline of 2012.

It was the same message former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld gave Congress two years ago.

The Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternatives program report also stated that meeting a separate 2017 deadline set by Congress would take round-the-clock operations in Pueblo and the use of something other than water neutralization for the 98 tons of mustard agent weapons in Kentucky.

“I found that report woefully lacking in any real information,” said Irene Kornelly, chairwoman of the Colorado Chemical Demilitarization Citizens Advisory Commission. “I don’t know why it took six months to come up with this. Six or eight of us could have done it in an hour.”

The real questions, Kornelly said, are whether the Defense Department plans to ask for the funds necessary to accelerate the program and Congress is willing to spend the money. Rep. Mark Udall, D-Colo., one of the authors of the legislation mandating the 2017 deadline, said the report includes some good news and some bad news.

Udall, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, explained: “The good news is that 2017 is doable. “The bad news is that we won’t know until early next year whether the Defense Department can come up with the funds and the plans that are needed to complete weapons destruction at the Pueblo Depot by 2017.

“I believe DOD understands that Congress was serious when it passed the 2017 deadline into law, so I am hopeful that the next administration’s budget request will include the funds necessary to make 2017 a reality,” Udall said.

The ACWA program manager, Kevin Flamm, is expected to have a report later this month on what it’s going to cost to reach that goal, but Kornelly said that time is slipping away.

The 2009 budget process already is under way and because the program lacks authorization to spend the money already appropriated, some work at the Pueblo Chemical Depot has had to be deferred.

Kornelly said she will be in a conference call with Flamm this afternoon and hoped to receive more information.

The Pueblo Chemical Depot has a stockpile of 780,000 artillery shells and mortar rounds containing 2,611 tons of mustard agent.

The destruction plan calls for the weapons to be opened by robotic equipment and the mustard agent neutralized in a solution of hot water and other chemicals. The remaining wastewater then either would be treated on-site and recycled in the plant or hauled away for further treatment.

The report did state that of three options, meeting the treaty deadline, transporting the weapons to plants already in operation and acceleration, only the third was practical.

Federal law prohibits transporting chemical weapons and changing that now, it said, would be difficult.

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Copyright (c) 2008, The Pueblo Chieftain, Colo.

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