Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Syria's Chemical Weapons: Why It Could Take Decades to Destroy Them

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Syria's Chemical Weapons: Why It Could Take Decades to Destroy Them

Article excerpt

How would the world destroy Syria's chemical weapons? There isn't an easy answer to that question. Syria has an estimated 1,000 tons or more of mustard and nerve gas stored at various locations around the war-torn country. Identifying and securing these stocks amidst ferocious fighting could be a horrendously difficult task.

Furthermore, getting rid of poison gas is far from a matter of rolling drums into a pit and lighting a match.

As experts note, if the Russia-proposed deal for Syrian chemical destruction actually goes through, the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad would sign the Chemical Weapons Convention. It's likely the UN Security Council would then pass a resolution establishing a special commission of personnel largely from the UN Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to oversee the actual work.

The CWC does not allow chemical stocks to be burned in open pits, buried, or dumped at sea, according to the OPCW's website.

That's a change from the bad old days. From World War I through 1970, the US disposed of thousands of chemical munitions via ocean disposal, according to a 2007 Congressional Research Service study. In 1964, for instance, the US Army dumped into the Atlantic 1,700 75mm shells filled with mustard gas that had been stored at Edgewood Arsenal in Maryland. In August 1970, the US military disposed of 12,508 M55 sarin nerve agent rockets in the sea 250 miles east of Cape Kennedy, Florida.

"Although DOD [Department of Defense] has indicated that chemical weapons are no longer dumped in the ocean, much is unknown about the potential risks from the past disposal of such weapons still in the ocean today," notes the CRS study.

The US experience shows that destruction is a lengthy and expensive process. It involves two alternative technologies: incineration or neutralization.

In the incineration process, as carried out at the just-closed Deseret Chemical Depot near Toole, Utah, robots first remove explosive components from munitions bodies. …

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