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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Russian CW Destruction Techniques

In 1993, the Russians decided to destroy chemical weapons at their storage locations because of public resistance to their transport. They estimated that seven plants are needed and would operate in two stages using chemical neutralization followed by incineration or processing to useful products.

The Russians also proposed chemical neutralization of agents followed by incineration or processing to useful products. Russian scientists investigated the chemistry of mustard agent to produce thiodiglycol, metal adsorbents, and rubber. This strategy of recycling chemical agents into valuable products had obvious appeal. The Russians announced that a plant in Novocheboksarsk that previously produced chemical weapons and now produces fertilizers and other products for civilian industry may be used to destroy chemical weapons while continuing their civilian output. This policy was clearly different from that in the U.S. where demilitarization and civilian industry are kept strictly separate and there are no plans for conversion of chemical agents to useful products.

Russians examined alternatives for treatments of Lewisite: chlorination, catalytic hydrogenation, and alkali hydrolysis. It appeared that hydrolysis followed by electrolysis to arsenic had the most promise. Mixtures of mustard and Lewisite may be neutralized in sulfur melts. Recipes for neutralization of organophosphorus agents are: monoethanolamine (at 100 to 140 oC) for Sarin and Soman, a mixture of ethylene glycol and ortho-phosphoric acid for VX. The Russians studied a fluidized bed reactor; the bed is alumina impregnated with Cr, Fe and operates between 450 - 650 oC without formation of CO or NOx. Other, long term possibilities may be irradiation or volcanic magma. Biological methods may be useful for final clean-up of waste products. Russian workers have also explored catalytic decomposition of agents directly in the munition case.

Engineering development of chambers to contain explosions was well developed in Russia. Their experience shows that 2 kg of explosive requires a chamber with diameter of 1.4 m, 15 kg requires 4.5 m. Destruction of 5 kg of chemical agent requires 25 kg of explosive; the corresponding equipment weight, including the chamber, is 50 tons. This chamber technology appears to be highly adaptable to the problem of disposal of explosively configured chemical munitions, enabling the destruction of the munition without contaminating the surrounding area and may answer the difficult problem of disposal of unstable, explosively configured weapons in a populated area. The Design and Technology Institute of High Rate Hydrodynamics in Novosibirsk has considerable experience in design and construction of explosion containing chambers.

In Russia, chemical agents were generally stored separated from explosives. Russia developed a mobile unit for chemical neutralization followed by incineration for destruction of faulty munitions (without explosives). This unit had been used in a Russian city and is considered by Russia to be environmentally safe. It is reported to handle up to 90 kg/hr of agent and, during the period 1980 - 1990, destroyed more than 4000 munitions containing a total of 200 tons of Sarin, Soman, or VX. Further development is in process to enable processing of chemical neutralization products into useful materials, e.g., for treatment of timber.

States, including Germany, The Netherlands, Sweden, Italy, and the US, offered assistance to destroy the Russian stockpile by providing specialized laboratories, equipment, and training. Currently the Russians, cooperating with the US, are evaluating a two step process for destruction of nerve agents: 1) chemical neutralization of the agent, 2) immobilizing the neutralization products in bitumen and disposal in landfill. For GB and GD the process uses monoethanolamine in water at 110 0C for neutralization, followed by addition to bitumen and calcium hydroxide and heating at 200 0C and a reduced pressure of 0.1 atm for one hour. The strong base, calcium hydroxide, aids in neutralization reactions and binds the fluoride ions from the agents as insoluble calcium fluoride. For VX, the process uses a Russian decontaminating solution, RD-4 (N-methyl pyrolidinone, potassium isobutylate, isobutyl alcohol), followed by treatment with bitumen at elevated temperature and reduced pressure. Tests indicate that the phosphorus containing neutralization products are bound in the bitumen and that this mixture is greatly reduced in toxicity. Based on testing reported through the summer of 1996, the Russian two step process effectively and irreversibly destroys nerve agents. The long term stability of the bitumen mixture and its suitability for land fill are being investigated. It appears that this method is based on previous Russian studies for chemical weapon decontamination and demilitarization (using monoethanolamine and RD-4) and on the availability and relatively low cost of the binding material - bitumen.

Russia used a two-step process to destroy its nerve agent stocks at some of its CWDFs: (1) neutralizing the nerve agent; and (2) disposal of the reaction mass (e.g., incineration et alia). Russia has argued that first-step neutralization of the nerve agents would meet CWC destruction requirements, but the United States and some other member states are not convinced that first-step neutralization satisfies the CWC requirement that CW destruction be “essentially irreversible,” given the presence of a significant amount of Schedule 2 chemicals in the reaction mass. The TS has agreed to give Russia destruction credit for the completion of the first step of CW agent neutralization so long as Russia destroys, under TS supervision, the reaction mass in a second step. Indeed, Russia is destroying the reaction masses at Shchuch’ye by bituminization and at Maradykovskiy and Leonidovka by incineration. Pochep, which came on line in the fourth quarter of 2010, also destroys the hydrolysis reaction mass by incineration.

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