Following a ribbon-cutting at Pueblo Chemical Depot, Colo., last week for a munitions destruction plant, officials say they are on track to begin the production-line destruction of one of America’s last stockpiles of chemical weapons.
“It’s the beginning of the end of the mission,” said John Riley, director of Pueblo County’s Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program.
Over the next four years, workers will destroy nearly 780,000 chemical shells filled with mustard gas. Most of the munitions will be run through the plant built on the site that will use industrial robots to break open the shells so the mustard agent inside can be washed away with a chemical compound. The plant was completed in 2012, but it took the depot four years to bring it online due to a variety of delays, reported the Colorado Springs Gazette.
The workforce exceeds 1,300, according to the project manager for Bechtel, which runs the plant. The cost of destroying the chemical weapons is $4.5 billion.
More than 500 shells already have been destroyed at the depot’s explosion chamber because they are too damaged to be processed by the plant. The explosive method will be used on only about 3,600 of the depot’s shells.
The Cold War-era weapons, banned under a 1993 international treaty, were to have been destroyed by 2012. Most of the rest of the U.S. stockpile has been destroyed.