US Destroys Last of Its Chemical Weapons Stockpile

Mimi Nguyen Ly
By Mimi Nguyen Ly
July 8, 2023US News
US Destroys Last of Its Chemical Weapons Stockpile
Workers at the Blue Grass Chemical Agent Destruction Pilot Plant in Richmond, Ky., begin the destruction of the first rocket from a stockpile of M55 rockets with GB nerve agent, on July 6, 2022. (U.S. Army via AP)

The United States has destroyed the last of its declared chemical weapons stockpile at a military installation in Kentucky.

President Joe Biden said in a White House statement that the final munition in the country’s stockpile was “safely destroyed.” The disarmament milestone brings the country “one step closer to a world free from the horrors of chemical weapons,” the president said.

The Defense Department announced that the final M55 rocket filled with sarin nerve agent was destroyed on Friday at the Blue Grass Army Depot—a U.S. Army Joint Munitions Command storage facility in Richmond, Kentucky. Sarin nerve agent, also known as GB nerve agent, is a deadly toxin. Some 51,000 such rockets had been held at the depot since the 1940s.

The final munition—more than 100,000 mustard agent and nerve agent-filled projectiles and nerve agent-filled rockets—was destroyed via “neutralization and explosive destruction technologies” at the depot, the Pentagon announced.

NTD Photo
An operator cuts the metal bands on a pallet of M55 rockets containing GB nerve agent at the Blue Grass Army Depot near Richmond, Ky., on July 6, 2022. (U.S. Army via AP)

Efforts to destroy chemical agents at the Blue Grass Army Depot began in June 2019, according to the Pentagon. All up, more than 523 U.S. tons of chemical agents were safely destroyed there.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) praised the latest move.

“Chemical weapons are responsible for some of the most horrific episodes of human loss,” Mr. McConnell said in a statement. “Though the use of these deadly agents will always be a stain on history, today our Nation has finally fulfilled our promise to rid our arsenal of this evil.”

Self-Imposed Deadline Met

The milestone meets the United States’ self-declared commitment to destroy all chemical weapons by Sept. 30, 2023.

Chemical weapons were first used in modern warfare in World War I, where they were estimated to have killed at least 100,000 people. The United States began assembling chemical weapons during World War I and continued producing them until the late 1960s.

By the end of the Cold War, the stockpile had reached over 30,000 tons, held at eight facilities in continental United States and one site on Johnston Atoll in the Pacific Ocean.

Congress mandated the destruction of the U.S. chemical weapons stockpile in 1986, and the efforts to eliminate the stockpiles started in 1990 on Johnston Atoll.

“While those stockpiles were under destruction, additional legislation required the Defense Department to assess and demonstrate alternative technologies to destroy chemical weapons by means other than incineration,” the Pentagon said.

“Successful implementation of alternative technologies resulted in the safe destruction of the remaining chemical weapons stored at the U.S. Army Pueblo Chemical Depot in Colorado and at the Blue Grass Army Depot in Kentucky.”

NTD Photo
Canisters of mustard gas, part of the U.S. chemical weapons stockpile, wait for destruction at the U.S. Army Pueblo Chemical Depot in Pueblo, Colo., on June 8, 2023. (David Zalubowski/AP Photo)

The Colorado and Kentucky sites were the last among where the nation’s chemical weapons had been stockpiled and destroyed. The other locations included facilities in Alabama, Arkansas, Oregon, and Utah.

Michael Abaie, the executive officer of the Pentagon’s Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternatives Program, said the facilities that were storing the chemical weapons will enter a closure phase for the next three to four years.

“This includes disposal of secondary wastes, decontamination and decommissioning of facilities and equipment, disposition of property, demolition of some facilities, and close-out of contracts and environmental permits,” Mr. Abaie said in a statement. “During closure, the safety of the workforce, the public and the environment will remain the program’s top priority.”

NTD Photo
A safety vehicle passing a compound filled with 170-gallon containers of mustard and blister agent at the Deseret Chemical Depot in Tooele, Utah, on April 30, 2001. (Douglas C. Pizac/AP Photo)

Chemical Weapons Convention

Mr. Biden said in his statement that eliminating the final chemical weapons “not only makes good on our long-standing commitment under the Chemical Weapons Convention” but also “marks the first time an international body has verified destruction of an entire category of declared weapons of mass destruction.”

The Chemical Weapons Convention is an international arms control treaty ratified by the United States in 1997, and was joined by 193 countries. The treaty bars members from developing, producing, acquiring, stockpiling, retaining, or transferring chemical weapons.

Mr. Biden urged Russia and Syria to “return to compliance” with the convention and “admit their undeclared programs, which have been used to commit brazen atrocities and attacks.” He also called on any holdout nations to join the convention.

Friday’s announcement came as the Biden administration has also decided to provide so-called “cluster munitions” to Ukraine. These munitions, after they are fired, open in midair and release small bombs (bomblets) over a wide area to strike several targets simultaneously. They can be delivered by planes, artillery, and missiles.

Two-thirds of NATO countries have banned such weapons because they can cause many civilian casualties.

U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the decision will enable the Ukrainians to continue their war effort with the ordinance they need, and that Ukraine has promised to use the munitions carefully.

 Michael Clements and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

From The Epoch Times