Safety Inspector Declares Incinerator Design For Richmond Site Unsafe

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October 1994

Safety Inspector Declares Incinerator Unsafe

By Campbell Wood

The ongoing debate over the safety of the Army’s incineration plans heats up as an employee at the chemical weapons incinerator in Tooele, Utah, blows the whistle on the Army’s unsafe operation of the plant. A budget is still pending Congressional approval for the construction of seven additional incinerators across the county, including one in Richmond, Kentucky.

A shrill whistle is reverberating in the corridors of the chemical weapons incinerator in Tooele, Utah. steve Hones, the former Safety Manager of the facility, says that the incinerator is unsafe and should be shut down immediately. On September 14, 1994, Jones was fired from his position, he claims because he refused to sign a document stating that identified risks at the facility were “acceptable.” EG&G, the contracting firm responsible for the incinerator’s operation, attributes his firing to managerial difference.

Jones, a Certified Safety Professional, has 20 years experience in the safety program in the Navy. He also spent 4 years as a member of the Army Inspector General Team, during which time he performed safety inspections across the country at nuclear plants and other sites, including he chemical weapons incinerators at Johnston Atoll in the Pacific.

“Lessons learned from the Johnston Atoll incinerator have never been sent to Tooele,” says Jones. “The same mistakes are being made over again. I guarantee that escape the same way it did at Johnston.” He also says that the dunnage furnace has a serious problem with dioxin release.

in an interoffice memorandum dated August 2, 1994, Jones indicated 15 areas of the incinerator process which he felt would be rated as “failing deficiencies” during an Army inspection. He says that the memorandum was shoved back across the desk to him and that he was instructed to never put negatives about the facility in writing.

The Tooele incinerator site manager, Tim Thomas, said the Army is not dismissing all that Jones alleged. However, Thomas said, “I am concerned if he (Jones) had enough in-depth knowledge to make these allegations after being here only two and a half months.” Jones says that he could see the problems on his first visit to the facility.

Senator Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, has urged that the changes be thoroughly investigated and the Army give more study to feasible alternatives to incineration.

Zapping Chemical Weapons

Britain’s Atomic Energy Authority owns the patent on the ECO technology, and Scottish based Subsea Offshore, a subsidiary of Sub Sea International of New Orleans, in handling the engineering and commercial phases. At the time of the NRC report’s publication, Sub Sea had all ready claimed “proof of principle” for ECO’s capability to destroy chemical munitions. Proof of principle is the first stage, as outlined in the NRC report, at which an alternatives technology must arrive to be considered viable. Since then the UK Chemical & Biological Defense Establishment monitored tests that not only confirmed proof of principle, but also mucked the ECO technology to “bench scale” demonstration, the second stage of development as described by the NRC. This leaves only the final stage of the construction of a full scale pilot plant and its successful operation.

“What we have successfully demonstrated,” said Iain Jarvies, a representative of Sub Sea, “using a basically scaled down model of what a real plant will be, is the effectiveness of our technology to destroy all of the chemical agents and the related waste streams. And this is accomplished in a closed-loop system using low temperatures and atmospheric pressure.”

The most problematic of the chemical munitions slated for destruction are M-55 rockets. There is concern that chemical agent may have leaded into the energetics, the explosive component, which would complicated the separation and destruction of the rocket waste streams. “Our test demonstrated that we can destroy the entire M-55 without having to disassemble it.,” said Jarvies. “With one swoop we can be rid of it, the metal container, the energetics, and the chemical agent. Our tests indicate that we could enter a whole row of M-55s, including the pallet, for destruction.” In the testing conducted at Porter Down, the British equivalent of the U.S. Military’s Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, an aluminum canister was loaded with DNT (an explosive simulate) and chemical agent VX. Introduced into a nitric-acid silver nitrate solution, the canister was electro-chemically dissolved freeing the DNT and VX to be destroyed by Silver II ions. By-products of this process are carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, oxygen, nitrogen, water and mineral acids. Scrubbers and charcoal filters handle these final emissions.

With all this in mind, last May, Senators Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Ben Nighthorse Campbell (D-Colorado) sent a letter to the NRC pressing their dismay with what they described as “inadequate treatment” of the ECO technology in the NRC report. The letter went on to say: “Despite good faith efforts on the part of fellow scientists to bring these issues to the attention of you principle researchers, there has been what seems to us a disturbing resistance to discuss the evidence.”

The NRC defended its findings stating: “We find no support for your contention that the committees resisted due consideration of electro-chemical oxidation or failed to observe scientific canons in evaluating the technology.” Sub Sea has acknowledged that consideration of ECO may have been rendered more difficult for the NRC because of time. The NRC was completing their study when Sub Sea presented their findings.

The destruction of chemical weapons, and environmental clean-up beyond that, is a global concern, a multi-billion dollar concern. Winning the American market is crucial to launch a treatment technology. Sub Sea continues design and engineering, which they hope to complete by the year’s end. On the drawing board are mobile plants that can be disassembled, transported and reassembled at treatment sites. Such facilities could be operated onboard one of their own ships to create the many tons of chemical weapons dumped in the Baltic Seas. Funding is the critical, missing ingredient, said Jarvies.

Bob Lockwood, Defense Advisor to Senator Hatch, Said that Senators Hatch and Campbell have communicated their concerns to the White House. They proposed to conduct a briefing at the White House on alternative technologies that have established proof-of-principle. “At this point,” said Lockwood, “I can say that our briefing would probably include the technologies of chemical neutralization, electro chemical oxidation, molten metal, molten salt, and steam gasification”

 

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