April 18, 2012
Weapons disposal cost could rise $2.6 billion
By Bill Robinson
RICHMOND — The cost of destroying chemical weapons stored at the Blue Grass Army Depot in Kentucky and the Pueblo Army Depot in Colorado could rise by as much as $2.6 billion, according to the latest Defense Department estimate.
The total cost for projects at both locations would come to $10.6 billion if the estimate is accurate.
The Pentagon’s latest projection also expects to see work at both locations completed two years later than previously expected.
Disposal at the Colorado depot would be completed in 2019, with the weapons stored in Kentucky destroyed by 2023.
However, project leaders and citizen watch dogs both said they expect disposal to be completed earlier and at less cost.
Craig Williams, who heads the Chemical Weapons Working Group and co-chairs the Chemical Destruction Citizens Advisory Board, called the forecasts a “worst case” estimate.
“We don’t expect the projects to take this long or cost this much,” he said. “An elongated schedule was brought forward to help ensure the funds are there, just in case they are needed.”
Estimating costs and schedules for large, complex construction projects, which will use new processes and handle aging and dangerous materials and are subject to comprehensive regulation, involves a great deal of uncertainty, which we’ve now taken into account, Conrad Whyne, executive officer of the Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternatives program stated in a news release.
“This may include anything from hiring qualified personnel, testing or equipment issues, to acquiring supplies and materials. If these issues are not encountered, the schedules can be shortened and destruction operations completed sooner.”
The United States is required to provide its most current schedule estimates to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) next month, Williams noted. The dates contained in the new estimate will fulfill the international treaty obligation that is overseen by OPCW.
Late last year OPCW agreed to allow additional time, beyond April 29, 2012, the deadline treaty deadline for complete disposal of chemical weapons in the U.S., Russia and Libya. As part of the agreement, each nation was required to submit updated schedule estimates, provide additional updates on progress being made and allow for increased verification inspections.
In January, the Army’s Chemical Materials Agency announced it had completed destruction of nearly 90 percent of the nation’s chemical weapons stockpile, mostly through incineration.
By applying lessons learned from that effort, the ACWA program that is using chemical neutralization to destroy weapons here and in Colorado seeks to shorten its schedule estimates, Whyne said.
“The U.S. is unwavering in its commitment to achieving 100-percent destruction of its chemical weapons as soon as possible, consistent with the Chemical Weapons Convention’s imperatives of public safety, environmental protection and international transparency,” he said.
“Part of that transparency is being open about the need to identify potential uncertainties in our planning,” Whyne said. “By doing so, we can acquire the appropriate resources and apply them to minimize or mitigate impact.”
Historically, disposal efforts in the U.S. and other countries have required more time and resources than initially predicted, Williams noted. Capturing the lessons experienced at those sites will provide the opportunity to shorten the timetable at the two remaining destruction facilities.
“It is prudent to be conservative in this instance,” said Williams. “Better to identify resources and time that might not eventually be needed than to need them and not have them.”
Bill Robinson can be reached at email@example.com or at 624-6622.