Sandia National Laboratories's explosive destruction system (EDS) has started eliminating the stockpile of chemical weapons at the US Army Pueblo Chemical Depot in Colorado.
More than 1,000 chemical munitions are expected to be processed by two EDSs over the next five years, as part of a large operation to destroy the stockpile of 780,000 munitions containing 2,600t of mustard agent, stored at the depot since the 1950s.
The majority of munitions have been deemed unsuitable for processing by the plant's automated equipment as they have leaked or been sampled in the past. They are scheduled to be destroyed in the Pueblo Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant later this year.
Sandia project lead mechanical engineer Brent Haroldsen said: "EDS was originally designed for non-stockpile chemical munitions at recovery sites, many of which are deformed and corroded.
"Stockpile munitions are generally in better shape, but there are always a few that are leaking or damaged. That's where EDS will come in to keep the plant moving efficiently."
Called the Phase Two Retrofit (P2R), the new EDS is designed to enhance the pilot plant operation work much faster than the original EDS that was developed in the late 1990s to destroy abandoned munitions.
The system incorporates several improvements from the Phase 2 Pilot (P2P), which decrease the processing time of original EDS from two days to one. There is also a separate boiler/chiller container and larger pipes and pumps to quickly transfer fluids.
At the pilot plant, the system will process six munitions per day, beginning with 560 reject munitions already set aside.
The EDS team is working with Defiant Technologies to develop an in-situ vapour monitoring system, which will draw a sample from inside the EDS vessel to ensure that it is safe to open following operation, eliminating the collection step and saving approximately 45 minutes.
An offshoot of Sandia's MicroChemLab gas phase system, the vapour monitoring system can also monitor for multiple agents simultaneously, and could be used to monitor the environmental enclosure around EDS or at a munition recovery site.
Haroldsen said: "The ability to monitor for multiple agents with a single system would further simplify operations."
The Pueblo pilot plant is being monitored by the US Program Executive Office, Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternatives (PEO ACWA), and by the Blue Grass Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant near Richmond, Kentucky, US.
Image: A Sandia National Laboratories technologist prepares the EDS vessel for shipment to the US Army Pueblo Chemical Depot in Colorado, US. Photo: courtesy of Sandia National Laboratories.