RICHMOND, Ky. — Slowly but surely, the pilot plant that will destroy 523 tons of chemical agent in Madison County continues to take shape.
Site construction is more than 25 percent complete at Blue Grass Army Depot south of Richmond, but the plant won't be finished until 2016. The reinforced concrete walls are more than 2 feet thick and 60 feet tall in some places, and the foundations are nearly 4 feet thick in some spots — all to withstand any explosion of the rockets and projectiles scheduled for destruction starting in 2018.
"That's not something that goes up very quickly," site project manager Jeff Brubaker said during a tour in early December.
Once the structural steel and concrete is finished, mechanical piping and electrical lines must be installed.
"With all the instrumentation and controls, we're going to be installing about 7 million linear feet of wire and cable," Brubaker said. "That, in and of itself, is going to take between about 2½ and 3 years to complete. It is on par with a large chemical-processing or nuclear facility."
During 2010, the last of the plant's design packages were completed; the foundation for the munitions demilitarization building — the 90,000-square-foot space where the munitions will be taken apart, the agent drained, and the explosives removed and neutralized — was finished; and six of the seven blast-containment walls were erected, with the seventh to be up by the end of the year.
Craig Williams, executive director of the Chemical Weapons Working Group, the Berea-based group that monitors weapons destruction, said 2010 was a year "of a tremendous amount of progress."
"I can tell you that they're making excellent progress on the main facility," Williams said.
Looking ahead, the coming year will see continued installation of structural steel. The foundation will be completed for the place designated for supercritical water oxidation, the process that will neutralize the liquid waste stream.
2011 might be the year a decision is made on whether to explode mustard rounds inside containment vessels. That's under consideration because some solidified residue inside the rounds could complicate removal of the mustard agent and could pose a greater risk to worker safety.
No decision to explode the mustard rounds would be made until an X-ray assessment of a sample 96 non-leaking rounds and another 79 projectiles that had previously leaked. The movement of the non-leaking rounds into an igloo could take place in February and March, and the assessment would be conducted from May through July, according to a tentative schedule.
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