Destruction Technologies

According to the provisions of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), a State Party may select and apply the appropriate destruction methods for its chemical weapons (CW). However, it should be noted that in the process of destroying chemical weapons the following methods are not permitted under the provisions of the CWC: dumping in any body of water, land burial or open pit burning.

The CW destruction technologies have been developed to destroy assembled unitary chemical weapons (artillery projectiles, mortars, air bombs, rockets, rocket warheads, spray tanks), CW agents stored in bulk, binary munitions and recovered CW munitions.

The mature large-scale CW destruction technologies are divided in two main groups:

  • high temperature destruction technologies like incineration, and
  • low-temperature destruction technologies like hydrolysis; followed by post-treatment of the generated reaction masses.

In this section:

JACADS plant, chemical weapons destruction facility in the U.S.
JACADS plant, chemical weapons destruction facility in the U.S.

United States of America

In the United States, the “base-line” incineration technology was introduced in practice at Johnston Atoll Chemical Agent Disposal System (JACADS, prototype plant), and this proved technology is currently in use at Tooele (TOCDF), Anniston. (ANCDF), Pine-Bluff (PBCDF) and Umatilla (UMCDF). When chemical weapons munitions are dismantled, three groups of component parts are generated; the agent, the explosives and some metal parts. Each component group is treated further separately. Agent combustion in the first chamber of the liquid incinerator at about 2,700 degrees F and additional treatment in the afterburner (second chamber) at approximately 2,000 degrees F leads to the 99.9999 percent destruction and full mineralisation of organic compounds; the generated oxides and acid gases are removed by scrubbing. The drained munitions cases and the emptied containers are decontaminated by thermal treatment.

Public concern about incineration in the United States has led to the development of a low-temperature, two-stage process, which is considered to be an "alternative" to the “base-line” incineration technology. Such destruction methodology was successfully implemented at three large-scaly facilities in the US in relation to agents stored in bulks; Aberdeen Chemical Agent Disposal Facility (ABCDF), Newport Chemical Agent Disposal Facility (NECDF) and Pine-Bluff Binary Destruction Facility (PBBDF).

The neutralisation of agent is carried out at the main destruction facilities; the generated hydrolisates are irreversibly disposed off-site at commercial designated Treatment, Storage and Disposal Facilities (TSDF). In all cases, the TSDF was declared as an integral part of the destruction facility and was covered by the agreed verification regime. The destruction methodologies with the implemented verification measures guarantee the destruction completeness and the materials non-diversion, as required by the Convention.

To apply low-temperature technologies to the demilitarisation of CW munitions, the Assembled Chemical Weapons Assessment program (ACWA) was created in the US to consider potential candidate methods such as: hydrolysis followed by Super Critical Water Oxidation (SCWO), hydrolysis followed by biodegradation, Silver II-Silver in nitric acid, and hydrolysis followed by SCWO with Transpiring Wall Reactor and Gas Phase Chemical Reduction systems. Three additional candidate technologies have being explored; Plasma Arc, Solvated Electron Technology and Cryofracture. All potential methods of destruction have been considered through the prism of their scientific principle, technology development status, type and quantities of CW to be destroyed, safety consideration and environmental impact. The budgetary aspects have been also taken into account.

The US also decided to apply the alternative destruction technologies at the two upcoming CW destruction facilities; hydrolysis followed by biodegradation in Pueblo, Colorado and hydrolysis followed by Super Critical Water Oxidation (SCWO) in Blue Grass, Kentucky. These two facilities are in a beginning stage of construction.

CW destruction operations have been completed at Johnston Atoll (JACADS), Aberdeen (ABCDF) and Pine Bluff Binary (PBBDF).

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Shchuchye chemical weapons destruction facility in the Russian Federation.
Shchuchye chemical weapons destruction facility.

Russian Federation

In the Russian Federation, the main technology developed and used to destroy Category 1 CW stockpiles is the neutralisation of agents at low temperature. The generated reaction mass is disposed of by incineration or bitumisation.

Two facilities, at Gorny and Kambarka, have been designated for the destruction of blister agents stored in bulks. For CW munitions, two facilities at Maradykovsky and Kizner will destroy organophosphorous and blister agents, and three at Leonidovka, Pochep and Shchuchye will destroy organophosphorous agents. In December 2002, the first facility in Gorny became operational. The Russian Federation completed destruction of lewisite, mustard and lewisite/mustard mixtures at Gorny CWDF on November 2005.

Kambarka CWDF is fully operational; the destruction of the lewisite is under way since December 2005 by continuous hydrolysis.

Maradykovsky CWDF became operational in mid-August 2006. This facility is designated to destroy approximately 17% of the Category 1 CW stockpile declared by the Russian Federation. The specific feature of these operations is the neutralisation of the agent inside the munitions bodies. The generated reaction mass is then disposed on site by incineration. The drained and washed-out munitions bodies are thermally treated and irreversibly mutilated on site.

The 4th CW destruction facility in the Russian Federation located at Leonidovka will destroy more than 4,400 metric tonnes of nerve agent (Vx) in aerial munitions, with the same technology as described above. The commencement of destruction operations is planned for the second half of 2008.

According to a plan provided by the Russian Federation, the first destruction activities at Shchuchye CWDF are going to begin on the 4th quarter of 2008. It will consist in the neutralisation of the agents followed by the bitumisation of the reaction mass and the final treatment of munition bodies.

In line with the experience of the US and the Russian Federation in the field of CW destruction, both approaches, incineration technology and low-temperature neutralisation followed by reaction mass post-treatment, have been implemented by other Possessor States.

Additional mobile destruction systems have been designed for emergency destruction or for obsolete/recovered CW munitions. The Explosive Destruction Systems, EDS is a trailer-mounted, mobile CW-destruction facility, comprising a containment vessel and a chemical reagent supply and transfer system. Operations occurring within the containment vessel involve the use of explosive charges to open the munition body, expose the chemical fill, and destroy the burster explosives, if present, as well as the use of chemical reagents to destroy the chemical fill and decontaminate the resulting mutilated metal parts. The EDS is used to support the destruction of both explosively and non-explosively configured recovered CW.

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Photo Gallery

OPCW visit to storage depot and destruction facility in Blue Grass, Kentucky, USA.

Photo Gallery of OPCW's visit to a storage depot and destruction facility in Blue Grass, Kentucky, USA

Click on the image to see more photographs of this visit at our Flickr page.