Dismantling and neutralizing aging chemical weapons is a dangerous task and a necessary one under the Chemical Weapons Convention, an international arms control treaty whose signees include the U.S. in 1997.
The Pueblo Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant, or PCAPP, in Colorado is celebrating the successful destruction of 100,000 chemical weapons from a U.S. stockpile and ZDNet reports that fortunately, robots were up for the task.
Decades ago, disposal of chemical weapons involved an environmentally unsound approach of large-scale dumping in the ocean during the 1960’s, a practice which Congress quickly ended. People then had to assume responsibility for the risk-laden work of disposing these munitions, until these robots took up the mantle, according to the outlet.
“In order to keep human workers safe, robots are tasked with removing explosive components from projectiles. Robots also access and drain the sulfur mustard, which is housed in a liquid form inside ordinance and causes horrific burns on the skin and in eyes and lungs.”
“In order to keep human workers safe, robots are tasked with removing explosive components from projectiles. Robots also access and drain the sulfur mustard, which is housed in a liquid form inside ordinance and causes horrific burns on the skin and in eyes and lungs,” reports ZDNet on PCAPP, the state-of-the-art facility opened in 2016.
"This milestone is a key step forward in achieving our mission here at PCAPP," says Bechtel Project Manager Bret Griebenow, whose global engineering, construction, and project management company won the contract to design the facility. "It is significant, and shows the operational ability of the plant, and our team, to safely and effectively destroy the remaining weapons."
Thick blast walls protect workers at PCAPP, who teleoperate or oversee autonomous forklifts and robots, according to ZDNet. With its pilot phase winding down, the plant is processing an average of 400 munitions a day. The facility will remain open until the entire stockpile of chemical weapons has been processed, likely by 2023.
"As we conclude our pilot testing and move to obtain our final operating permit, we are excited to see increased and consistent productivity, reliability, and sustainability of our processes and procedures," said PEO ACWA Site Project Manager Greg Mohrman. "Achieving this milestone is a time to pause and document our successes, while continuing to focus on the safe destruction of the remaining stockpile."