By Taylor Six
The Blue Grass Army Depot is hoping to expand the capacity for which they can process nerve agent munitions by building a larger, additional static detonation chamber (SDC 2000) which would process M55 rockets on site.
As of now, BGAD plans to destroy their nerve agent stockpile (VX or GB agents) by using the Blue Grass Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant (BGCAPP) Main Plant to process the nerve agent munitions. They also plan to use the existing static detonation chamber (SDC 1200) to destroy the mustard agent munitions (H agent) and possibly process drained rocket warheads there as well, with operations beginning in June.
The proposed SDC 2000 will process drained rocket warheads also, as well as overpacked munitions which are overpacked in larger, sealed, steel containers to keep stored. If BGAD were to process these munitions in the already standing BGCAPP Main Plant, personnel in agent protective suits would be required to open the overpack and remove the leaking munition, making it a higher risk operation.
According to a draft of the proposed action for processing the agent, the modifications are “needed to increase worker safety, minimize equipment downtime and reduce the number of times personnel enter agent-contaminated areas.”
“Rather than the workers open those up and process the munitions, the SDC 2000 will process the munitions, as is, so that the workers won’t have to open those up,” said Craig Williams, Kentucky Environmental Foundation executive director.
In addition to processing the overpacked munitions, other conditions such as unknown operation problems and gelled or solidified nerve agent in M55 rockets “contribute to safety risk and to the risk of not meeting the mandated date for complete destruction of the stockpile,” the proposed action draft read.
“The primary reason for these modifications are safety reasons,” Williams said. “The schedule is important, but safety is the motivator for these modifications.”
According to Williams, the facility has only preliminary renderings and wouldn’t be erected until sometime next year, with no definitive date of completion. He added that the new site would be of no cost to either the two cities or county, but is funded through the Program Executive Office Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternatives (PEO ACWA) budget.
Before the additional chamber is approved to be built, an environmental assessment was conducted to understand the “potential extent of environmental impacts of the proposed action.”
The draft for the proposed action, called Finding Of No Specific Impact (FONSI), states “proposed action (of building an additional chamber) will reduce or eliminate current safety and schedule risks with no significant impacts to human health or the environment.”
In addition to the environmental review documented in the assessment, more environmental permits are required for site preparation, installation and operation of any new equipment for processing nerve agent.
Part of this additional process includes public participation. The Army will seek public comment on the FONSI draft during a 30-day comment period that began, May 16, the day the draft was released. The public comment period will last until June 17.
Once the public comment period closes, the Army will consider all of the comment and make a final determination of whether or not they will proceed with the proposed action of the SDC 2000.
“We aren’t required to have a public meeting, but with something like this, we know that we need to go above and beyond with what is required,” Williams said.
A public comment meeting will be held tonight from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Blue Grass Chemical Stockpile Outreach Office, 1000 Commercial Drive Suite 2.
A public comment form can also be downloaded online at https://www.peoacwa.army.mil/bgcapp/environmental-activities-at-bgcapp/. The last day to submit the comment forms will be June 17, 2019.