Slated for destruction since at least 1985, the nation’s largest remaining stockpile of chemical munitions – maintained in Colorado in earth-cover “igloos” at the Pueblo Chemical Deport – are old, leaky and expensive to protect.
The process of dismantling them is 29 years behind schedule and $33.8 billion over budget, according to an I-News at Rocky Mountain PBS inquiry into Defense Department documents and historical accounts.
Half a world away, the Organization for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is seeking to take apart Syria’s estimated 1,000-ton stash of poison agent in just eight months. The group was awarded this year’s Nobel Peace Prize for their work, which proceeds amid a raging civil war.
The U.S. has offered to lend a hand by destroying the highest-priority chemical weapons, which are slated to leave Syria by the end of December. Its proposal is to neutralize the arms using a mobile water-treatment process, aboard a ship on the open sea.
But the depot here in Pueblo shows how difficult the job can be, even absent the chaos of war. Stymied by technical barriers, concerned neighbors and increasingly complex environmental regulations, the U.S. effort to get rid of its own weapons of mass destruction has consistently fallen short of projections.
Ronald Reagan was president when Congress first directed the Army to eliminate its stockpile of 31,500 tons of mustard agent, sarin and VX developed by the U.S. military for use in war. At that time, the Army thought the job would be done by 1994 and cost $1.7 billion, according to the Henry L. Stimson Center, a Washington, D.C.-based research institute.
By the time of the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention – an international treaty under which the U.S. and other nations agreed to destroy their stockpiles – estimates had shifted. But the U.S. still expected to destroy its arsenal by a 2007 deadline. The convention held out the possibility of a five-year extension. That deadline slipped by last year. In the latest Defense Department projection, the remaining 10 percent of the stockpile won’t be destroyed until 2023, at a total cost of $35.5 billion.
A smaller remaining chemical weapons stockpile is being stored at Kentucky’s Blue Grass Army Depot.