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Published:April 20th, 2006 16:21 EST
United States Seeks Extension for Chemical Weapons Destruction

United States Seeks Extension for Chemical Weapons Destruction

By SOP newswire

Unanticipated delays, setbacks prompt request to extend deadline until 2012

The United States remains deeply committed to the success of the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) but unanticipated delays and setbacks have prompted a U.S. request for an extension of the deadline by which it must destroy its remaining chemical weapons stocks, according to a U.S. official.

Ambassador Eric Javits, the U.S. permanent representative to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons at The Hague, Netherlands, told delegates at an informal meeting April 20 that the United States remains dedicated to the success of the treaty but is asking for the extension from April 29, 2007, to April 29, 2012, the last possible date permitted by the CWC.

However, based on current U.S. Army projections, he said, the United States does not expect to be able to destroy 100 percent of chemical weapons stockpiles by April 2012.

The Chemical Weapons Convention, which entered into force April 29, 1997, bans the development, production, acquisition, stockpiling, retention and direct or indirect transfer of chemical weapons. It also prohibits the use or preparation for use of chemical weapons and the assistance, encouragement or inducement of anyone else to engage in activities prohibited by the CWC.

The U.S. government remains committed to destroying its entire chemical weapons stockpile as quickly and safely as possible, Javits said, and will look for ways to accelerate its destruction progress.  He said the United States wants to be as open and transparent about its destruction efforts and not present a false picture.

“It has taken longer than anticipated to build facilities and to obtain the necessary permits and consent to begin destruction of chemical weapons, and we have found that, once operating, our facilities have not destroyed weapons as rapidly as we initially projected,” Javits said.

He also made the following points:

• The United States began destroying its chemical weapons stockpile even before the treaty entered into force;

• It has provided funding and assistance to other countries destroying their chemical weapons; and

• The United States met its first two treaty milestones.

A related State Department fact sheet says that the United States began destroying its most lethal chemical weapons such as VX nerve gas and sarin nerve agent first. It has destroyed 86 percent of the latter.

It also says that the United States will continue to look for ways to improve its destruction progress to try to meet its 2012 goal, or, if that is impossible, to complete the destruction process “as soon as feasible thereafter.”

For more information see Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.

Following is the text of the Javits’ statement, followed by an April 20 State Department fact sheet providing additional details on the U.S. request to extend its CWC deadline:

(begin text)

U.S. Department of State
Ambassador Eric Javits, U.S. Permanent Representative to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)
The Hague, The Netherlands
April 20, 2006

Statement Concerning Request to Extend the United States' Destruction Deadline Under The Chemical Weapons Convention

Good morning.

I'd like to thank Chairman Dastis for calling this informal meeting, and I'd like to thank all of you for taking time out of your busy schedules to be here this morning.

As you all know, the United States is requesting that our final chemical weapons destruction deadline, which was extended "in principle" two and a half years ago, be set at April 29, 2012, the latest date allowable under the Chemical Weapons Convention. Yesterday, I submitted our formal request to Chairman Dastis and Director-General Pfirter. This is an important issue, and I wanted to provide you with as much information as possible concerning the U.S. extension request and the reasons for it, so I asked the Chairman to arrange this meeting, and I asked Washington to provide an in-depth briefing. That briefing will begin in a few minutes, but I would like to make a few remarks first.

The United States is dedicated to the success of the Chemical Weapons Convention. We played a leading role in negotiating it. In fact, the basis for the CWC text finally opened for signature in Paris was a draft presented to the Conference on Disarmament by former president George H.W. Bush. We played a leading role in the Preparatory Commission. And we have played an active, constructive role since the treaty entered into force. We began destroying our chemical weapons stockpile years even before the Convention entered into force. And we have provided funding and assistance to other States Parties seeking to destroy chemical weapons stockpiles. Our commitment to the Chemical Weapons Convention is deep, and it is long-standing.

The United States possesses the second largest chemical weapons stockpile in the world. Safely and effectively destroying more than 27 thousand metric tons of assorted chemical weapons is an enormous challenge -- one we have made strenuous efforts to meet. We expect to spend over $32 billion before we are finished. We have made every effort to ensure that our chemical weapons are destroyed safely, without harm to people or the environment; verifiably, under the eyes of OPCW inspectors; and as rapidly as feasible.

We have had considerable success. We met the first two treaty milestones -- destruction of 1% and 20% of our stockpile -- well ahead of treaty timelines. We have completed operations at two facilities, and six more are currently operating at a cost of a billion and a half dollars a year. We have successfully addressed a wide range of safety and environmental concerns raised by citizens living near our storage and destruction facilities and by state and local authorities.

But we have also experienced setbacks and delays. It has taken longer than anticipated to build facilities and to obtain the necessary permits and consent to begin destruction of chemical weapons, and we have found that, once operating, our facilities have not destroyed weapons as rapidly as we initially projected.

By late 2002, it was clear to us that we would need to request an extension of our 45% deadline -- which was extended to December 2007 -- and also our 100% deadline. At that time, however, we did not believe that we had sufficient information to project a date for complete destruction of our stockpile. Since then, we have continued to encounter delays and difficulties, as you will hear in the briefing, and have devoted enormous resources to overcoming these obstacles.

I am going to be perfectly candid with you. We are asking for April 29, 2012 as our extended deadline because that is the latest date the treaty allows us to ask for. Based on our current projections, we do not expect to be able to meet that deadline, as you will see in our request.

We are actively seeking ways to improve our situation. To date, we have not identified any option that would allow us to complete destruction by April 2012. But we will continue to seek opportunities to improve our progress, with the goal of reaching the 2012 deadline, or, if that is not possible, completing destruction as soon as feasible thereafter. The U.S. government is committed to destroying our entire stockpile as rapidly as possible without compromising safety.

I recognize that this news will be of concern to many here. But we do not wish to present a false picture. We are committed to a policy of openness concerning our destruction efforts. We will continue to work closely with the Executive Council and will provide regular updates on our progress. We will seek to ensure that the Executive Council has all the information it needs as we approach the 2012 deadline.

As a first step, we have brought experts from Washington to provide the information you need to consider our request. Mr. Dale Ormond, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for the Elimination of Chemical Weapons, is with us today to speak to you about our request. Mr. Ormond is one of the senior officials in our CW destruction program. Previously, he was the project manager at the Tooele CWDF [Chemical Weapons Destruction Facility], our longest-running destruction facility, a site responsible for destroying over 40% of our total stockpile. So this is a man who knows our program intimately, from the ground up. He will describe for you the history of our program, the challenges we have encountered, and our plans to move forward. Mr. Chairman, Mr. Director-General, colleagues, thank you for your attention.

(end statement)

(begin fact sheet)

Fact Sheet
Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation (ISN)
Washington, DC
April 20, 2006

U.S. Request to Extend Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC)

Deadline for Complete Destruction of Chemical Weapons Stocks

-- The United States is requesting an extension of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) deadline for destroying 100% of CW stocks from April 29, 2007 to April 29, 2012. (The CWC requires such a request be submitted by April 29, 2006.)

-- The U.S. remains deeply committed to the CWC and eliminating its entire stockpile of chemical weapons by the earliest possible date, in a safe and secure manner.

The U.S. Record to Date on CW Destruction

-- As of March 31, 2006 the U.S. has destroyed 10,103 metric tons of chemical agent since Entry-into-Force of the CWC, or 36.4% of its declared inventory of 27,768 metric tons, far more than all other declared CW possessors combined.

-- The U.S. has completed operations at two chemical weapons destruction facilities (CWDFs) at Johnston Island and Aberdeen, Maryland. Six other major facilities are currently operating. Site preparations are underway for construction of the final two CWDFs.

-- The U.S. met its 1% and 20% destruction deadlines early, and is working towards its 45% destruction milestone date of December 31, 2007, as extended by the OPCW.

-- The U.S. has devoted enormous resources to the effort to safely and expeditiously destroy its CW stocks, including over $1.5 billion in 2005, and a projected $32-34 billion over the lifetime of the project (for comparison total 2005 budget for OPCW was $91.6 million).

-- Have concentrated on destroying our most lethal weapons first, specifically VX and sarin nerve agent, with over 86% of the latter already destroyed. Will finish destruction of binary agents our most modern stocks by the end of 2007.

Reasons for the Proposed Extension

-- Destroying the world's second largest stockpile safely is extraordinarily difficult and complex.

-- The U.S. has encountered delays in initiating operations and lower-than-planned destruction rates for reasons listed below:

-- Delays in obtaining environmental permits necessary to start operations;

-- Start-up delays due to additional community emergency preparedness requirements;

--  Longer than projected downtime for maintenance and changeover to other agents;

-- Work stoppages to investigate and resolve problems, along with reductions in throughput;

-- Development of protocols to improve operational safety; and

-- Deteriorating munitions more challenging to handle and safely destroy than anticipated.

-- The U.S. continues to improve as the program progresses, incorporating lessons learned at the start of each new facility.

Plan for Destruction During the Proposed Extension

-- The U.S. plans to incorporate lessons learned and risk mitigation measures that may accelerate the schedule of chemical agent destruction, but at this time, we do not expect to be able to meet the April 29, 2012 deadline for destruction of the U.S. declared CW stockpile.

-- Current projections indicate that four facilities will be operating past 2012 (Tooele, Anniston, Umatilla, and Pine Bluff), and two facilities that have not yet been constructed (in Pueblo and Bluegrass) are expected to commence destruction operations no earlier than 2011.

-- The U.S. has evaluated a number of alternatives to improve our CW destruction progress in order to meet the existing timelines, but has not identified at this time an option or combination of options that would result in the U.S. meeting the 2012 extended deadline.

-- The U.S. continues to seek opportunities to improve our CW destruction progress in order to complete destruction with the goal of reaching the 2012 deadline or if that is not possible completing destruction as soon as feasible thereafter.

Status of Each Main CWDF

-- Johnston Atoll Chemical Agent Disposal System has completed operations, destroying 640 metric tons of agents by November 2000.

-- Hawthorne (NV) has completed destruction of 458 metric tons of binary precursor chemicals contained in canisters in projectiles in July 1999.

-- Aberdeen (MD) Chemical Agent Disposal Facility (ABCDF) has completed operations, destroying 1,472 metric tons of agent by February 2006. This facility used neutralization followed by bio-treatment to destroy mustard agent (HD) drained from ton containers.

-- Anniston (AL) Chemical Agent Disposal Facility (ANCDF) began operations in August 2003, and has destroyed by incineration all 397 metric tons of GB, with 1,648 metric tons of other agents remaining. Start-up was delayed 7 months to implement additional community emergency preparedness. Currently inactive while preparing for destruction of VX.

-- Blue Grass (KY) Chemical Agent Disposal Pilot Plant (BGCAPP) is currently in the design phase, with 475 metric tons to be destroyed. Will use neutralization, followed by supercritical water oxidation, to destroy GB, VX, and HD. Projected to start in 2011.

-- Newport (IN) Chemical Agent Disposal Facility (NECDF) began operations in May 2005 to neutralize bulk nerve agent (VX) totaling 1,152 metric tons. Resulting hydrolysate is currently stored in intermodal containers awaiting a decision on off-site treatment/disposal.

-- Pine Bluff (AR) Binary Destruction Facility (PBBDF) began operations in December 2005 to destroy DF and QL stocks totaling 161 metric tons. Using neutralization, followed by wet air oxidation, will destroy binary stocks by the end of 2007.

-- Pine Bluff (AR) Chemical Agent Disposal Facility (PBCDF) began operations in March 2005, and has destroyed 166 metric tons of GB using incineration, with 3,327 metric tons remaining. Currently inactive undergoing maintenance, expected to resume by 15 May.

-- Pueblo (CO) Chemical Agent Disposal Pilot Plant (PCAPP) is currently in the design phase, with 2,371 metric tons to be destroyed. Will use neutralization followed by biotreatment to destroy mustard agent. Projected to start in 2011.

-- Tooele (UT) Chemical Agent Disposal Facility (TOCDF) began operations in August 1996, and has destroyed 6,489 metric tons of CW since EIF using incineration, including all GB and VX, with 5,632 metric tons remaining. Facility was shut down 8 months to implement a new safety plan following an incident of worker exposure to a minute amount of agent. Currently inactive preparing for destruction of mustard agent. Contamination of some mustard stocks with mercury raises complications.

-- Umatilla (OR) Chemical Agent Disposal Facility (UMCDF) began operations in September 2004, and has destroyed 478 metric tons of GB stocks using incineration, with 2,896 metric tons remaining. Encountering delays as a result of repeated fires in the explosive containment rooms during the rocket shearing process. Steps were taken to mitigate any safety issues.

Source:  United States Department of State