RICHMOND, Ky. — After years of planning and design, the pilot plant that will destroy 523 tons of chemical agent in is finally taking shape.
Two 300-ton cranes are moving steel and rebar in place for the buildings going up on a 50-acre site at Blue Grass Army Depot south of Richmond. Site preparation and preliminary construction actually began in 2006, but it wasn't until late summer that the first vertical steel began reaching for the sky.
"Now that we're coming out of the ground with the steel, everybody's enthusiastic about that," site project manager Jeff Brubaker said during a tour in early December.
Earlier this year, Congress appropriated more than $500 million — the largest amount ever appropriated for the program — to accelerate the disposal of weapons in Madison County and Colorado's Pueblo Depot Activity. That means more people can be put on the job and more material and equipment can be purchased, Brubaker said.
That shortens completion of the Madison County plant by two years to 2016, although testing of the equipment means the plant won't start destroying the mustard, VX and sarin nerve agents until 2018. Then it will take until 2021 to completely destroy the agents, well past the deadlines set by international treaty and by Congress to finish the job.
Nevertheless, the increase in funding "signifies that there's going to be steady employment, so that's good for morale, too," Brubaker said.
And he said, "We're continually looking for other avenues to accelerate the construction process. If we're successful in doing that, we should be able to start destruction sooner."
A decision scheduled to come in January could accelerate the destruction of mustard agent.
Army officials have suggested the limited use of explosives to destroy some of the mustard munitions. The Pentagon says the method has been thoroughly tested in Europe and is the best and safest way to destroy the weapons.
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