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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)


Shchuch´ye, Kurgan Region
Chemical Weapons Destruction Facility

At a depot in Shchuch'ye, Russia, more than 2 million modern, ground-launched chemical weapons are stored. These lethal weapons pose an attractive target for terrorists due to the small size of many of the munitions storied at the location. Shchuch'ye will be the main facility for the destruction of Russian nerve agent munitions - the Russian Munitions Agency plans to use it to destroy over 4 million artillery munitions from the Shchuch'ye and Kizner storage depots.

The chemical weapons stored at the seven locations where chemical agents are stockpiled are categorized by the branch of the military service that commands the installation. The storage locations, as well as Kizner and Shchuch´ye (SHOO-che), are under the command of the Russian Ground Forces and contain primarily nerve agent rocket and tube artillery warheads/projectiles. The agents are stored in a variety of munitions and containers: projectiles, bombs, rocket warheads, missile warheads, spray tanks and bulk containers. The Russian stockpile of R-VX, Sarin, Soman and Phosgene is 100 percent weaponized. With the exception of "complex" munitions, none of the Russian chemical weapons contain explosive components. The facility at Shchuch´ye also stores Phosgene.

On 17 September 1941, a decree by the GKO USSR in the city of Shchuch'ye (village of Planovy) Kurgan Oblast established Military Storage Depot No. 621. On 19 May 1945 the military warehouse was renamed the Central Military Base (CMB) No. 621. On 6 May 1947 the CMB No. 621 was renamed the Central Artillery Supply Base No. 151. On 1 April 1987 the 151 CASB was renamed the Shchuch'ye Chemical Weapons Arsenal (2nd category arsenal) of the Central Rocket-Artillery Command of the Defense Ministry (GRAUMO). As of February, 1998, the arsenal was transferred from GRAUMO to the Command for the Liquidation of Chemical Weapons of the National Command for Radioactive, Chemical and Biological Defense Forces (UNV RKhBZ MO RF).

The chemical weapons are stored in a specially guarded technical territory of 253 hectares in above ground storage repositories of the following types:

  • Reinforced concrete panel storage -- 8 units
  • Reinforced concrete block storage -- 8 units
  • Brick -- 36 units
  • Wooden structures -- 14 units

All repositories are equipped with lightning protection, and fire fighting means. The technical area is equipped with fire alarms as well as adequate supplies of water for fire fighting.

On the technical territory, in additional to the repository with chemical weapons, are special facilities for the planned work with the armaments and for providing for the safe operation of the arsenal.

Shchuch´ye is the location selected by the Russian Federation Ministry of Defense for the first chemical weapons destruction facility for nerve agent-filled munitions - a facility that the CTR program is helping to create. Shchuch´ye is located in the Kurgan Region (or Oblast), 975 miles east of Moscow, and contains approximately 14 percent of the stockpile on an agent tonnage basis. This equates to approximately 5,400 metric tons of agent contained in nearly two million munitions. The majority of the Shchuch´ye stockpile is comprised of rocket and tube artillery warheads/projectiles. In addition, the Shchuch´ye chemical weapons stockpile also contains a small number of nerve agent-filled missile warheads and Phosgene-filled artillery projectiles.

The more than one million residents of the Kurgan Region make up less than one percent of the total population of Russia. Most of the population is ethnically Russian, with Ukrainians, Tatars, Kazaks, Bashkirians, and a variety of other cultural groups also represented. Although about half of the people reside in urban regions, with the majority living in the capital city of Kurgan, the nearest major population center is actually the city of Chelyabinsk, located approximately 50 miles to the west in the Chelyabinsk Oblast.

Within the pear-shaped borders of the Shchuch´ye District resides a population of 30,250. The largest municipality is the town of Shchuch´ye (population 11,100), bordered closely by the surrounding communities of Chumlyak and Planovy, situated to the northwest and south of the stockpile respectively. These settlements and 50 other communities are located in the southern portion of Western Siberia, lying between the Ural Mountains and the Yenisei River, bordering the former Soviet Republic of Kazakastan. The Miass River divides the district into almost equal north and south halves, with the entire area crossed by the Trans-Siberian Railroad. More than half the settlements and two-thirds of the Shchuch´ye District population are within this 15 kilometer "river-railway" zone.

Land use in this largely rural area is predominantly agrarian in nature; there is little heavy industry. Precipitation in the region is minimal; consequently, the total water resources of the Shchuch´ye District and all of the western section of the Kurgan Region are at a premium in that part of Russia. This limited water supply has been compromised by heavy metals, radioactive materials, liquid municipal wastes, and effluents from industry, farms and households. The majority of these wastes are disposed into ponds and swamps without drainage, where they are neither diluted nor treated. This practice has impacted surface and ground water quality, soil conditions, and plant and animal life.

Due to the environmental issues faced by the communities of the Shchuch´ye District, combined with a shortage of comprehensive medical services, human health concerns have become a key focus of the residents of this region. Additionally, residents are concerned about the impact of the contraction and closing of a number of defense plants in an area that once supported the military and industrial complex of the former Soviet Union. Conversion of these facilities for other military or industrial purposes has been a slow process.

Within the context of the Kurgan Region's environmental issues, human health and economic issues, the people of Shchuch´ye, Chumlyak and Planovy believe chemical weapons destruction is an important issue because the safe and secure disposal of the Russian chemical stockpile will yield benefits to both the people and the environment. With first Czarist and later Communist rule, the region struggles with a legacy of government distrust. Many citizens are concerned their area will become a dumping ground for the rest of Russia's chemical weapons. A visible and open Russian government presence is developing in the region, as evidenced by the openness of the Kurgan public hearings held in July 1997.

Even more pressing than concerns about government handling of this situation is the more immediate concern of how the chemical disposal facility will impact the lives of the people in the surrounding communities. These communities have numerous urgent needs that a Russian-funded infrastructure project would help meet. A cleanup of the environment, especially the water supply; improved access to medical care; the payment of back wages; improved housing; paved roads; and greater access to consumer items are some of the major benefits residents would welcome. The citizens of Shchuch´ye, Chumlyak, and Planovy hope that the construction and operation of the chemical disposal facility will lead to the realization of some of these goals through Russian efforts to support the facility's development.

In 1992, the United States and the Russian Federation signed a Bilateral Destruction Agreement (BDA) to implement chemical weapons destruction. The Russian Ministry of Defense (MOD) selected a two-stage destruction process of chemical agent neutralization followed by bituminization, or solidification.A joint Russian and U.S. evaluation of the selected process confirmed its safety and effectiveness in destroying better than 99.99 percent of agent in laboratory tests. MOD will use this disposal technology at the Russian Federation's first chemical agent destruction facility for nerve-agent filled munitions, a facility to be located near the town of Shchuch´ye, in the Kurgan Region.

The two-stage process-- neutralization followed by bituminization-- will convert lethal chemical agent into a significantly less toxic substance. This substance, called bitumen salt mass or BSM, has a "slightly dangerous" rating by U.S. hazardous materials classification standards. As BSM currently has no known usable or recyclable qualities, its solid, insoluble and non-gaseous qualities make BSM an environmentally safe material to place in storage, provided the storage structure is effectively constructed and managed to reduce contamination risks to the air, soil and water. Consequently, the Russian Federation plans to place this material in a special concrete structure, or bunker. The Russian Federation designed the bunker in an effort to address environmental protection and safety factors and to satisfy Russia's international obligations to dispose of chemical weapons under the BDA and the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC).

The bunker facility at Shchuch´ye that will contain BSM is designed specifically to reduce the risks of environmental contamination and public exposure. Six bunkers will be constructed with each having 16 compartments. Solidified BSM will be compacted into 200 liter drums and placed into concrete bunkers located above ground water level. The base, walls and ceiling of the bunker will be reinforced with steel and built on top of a reinforced concrete slab. The bunker will be covered with liner materials to form a seal that will prevent leakage into and out of the bunker. The barrels containing BSM will be stacked tightly together in three tiers in each compartment of the bunker.

Once full, each compartment will be sealed with concrete slabs and a layer of soil, and an additional waterproof cover will be applied to the entire surface. The cover will slope down from the center of the bunker to allow water to run off and collect for sampling and removal. A sanitary perimeter of three kilometers in radius will restrict access to the area and provide an added level of protection. MOD selected the two-stage neutralization and bituminization process because this technology allows for the quick, safe and efficient disposal of the Russian Federation's chemical stockpile. This disposal method will satisfy the Russian Federation's need to dispose of its chemical weapons in accordance with the BDA and CWC. The Russian Federation and the United States will continue to work jointly to achieve the destruction of the Russian chemical stockpile at Shchuch´ye.

CTR efforts to develop a chemical weapons destruction facility at Shchuch´ye include assistance in meeting Russian Federation permitting requirements through support to the Justification of Investment and development of the Stage III Technical Documentation, a crucial step leading to final land allocation for the facility and a construction permit. In this capacity, CTR program funds also supported public hearings in the local Shchuch´ye community to provide the general public with information about the proposed facility and to present the Justification of Investment for the project.

Currently, the CTR program focus is on the activities leading up to construction of the facility, including permitting documentation preparation, development of the Russian destruction technology, and design of the chemical weapons destruction facility. The next steps in the project - facility construction, operator training, systemization, startup and facility turnover - are pending congressional allocation of additional funding and the meeting of infrastructure obligations by the Russian Federation.

Design of the Chemical Weapons Destruction Facility at Shchuch´ye

The plan for Shchuch´ye is to build the first two-stage chemical weapons destruction facility for nerve agent-filled artillery munitions. Unlike U.S. chemical weapons storage installations, the Shchuch´ye installation does not have sufficient land for the destruction facility because the installation boundary is adjacent to the storage buildings. Consequently, the Ministry of Defense and the Kurgan Region are considering two locations for the chemical weapons destruction facility: one approximately 17 kilometers north of the storage installation and one approximately five kilometers west of the storage installation. The preliminary site selection is expected in early 1998.

The Russian chemical weapons destruction facility will include two munitions destruction buildings due to a Russian requirement to construct the facility in two stages. Stage One will have a destruction capacity of 500 metric tons per year and will be capable of processing small- and medium-sized rocket and tube artillery. Stage Two will be capable of processing small-sized rocket and tube artillery munitions and large rocket and missile warheads. Stage Two will provide an additional destruction capacity of 700 metric tons per year, bringing the destruction capacity of the full-scale facility to 1,200 metric tons per year. The CTR program will assist the Russian Federation in constructing the first munitions destruction building, as well as the rest of the buildings needed to support the full-scale facility. The Russian Federation is responsible for the construction of the second munitions destruction building.

The Russian Federation's Chosen Destruction Technology

In the destruction process proposed for the Shchuch´ye facility, munitions are sent through one of three specially designed drill-and-drain machines that will remove the nerve agent from the munition. Unlike the U.S. chemical weapons, the Russian chemical weapons are welded during assembly - this makes the reverse-assembly technology used in the U.S. chemical weapons disposal facilities unsuitable for draining the Russian chemical munitions. Once the munitions are drained, they proceed through a metal parts furnace to decontaminate the munition casings thermally in preparation for recycling. The exhaust gas from the metal parts furnace also is decontaminated through a treatment process that will allow the gas to be released safely from the furnace. After moving through the metal parts furnace, the munition casings will be altered in accordance with the destruction requirements of the Chemical Weapons Convention to ensure they can no longer be used for their original purpose.

The nerve agent drained from the munitions will be destroyed using the two-stage destruction process selected by the Russian Ministry of Defense. During the first stage of this process, the nerve agent will be detoxified, or chemically neutralized, by adding an organic chemical reagent. For Sarin and Soman, the reagent will be monoethanolamine (MEA), while for Russian VX the reagent will be a mixture developed in Russia called RD4M. Once Stage One is complete, the neutralized agent, called a reaction mass, will be subjected to Stage Two of the destruction process - bituminization. During the bituminization stage, the neutralized byproduct is mixed with hot petroleum asphalt and solidified.

Once stage two is complete, the resulting byproduct, a waste called bitumin salt mass, will be contained in steel barrels and placed in a specially designed concrete bunker located above groundwater level adjacent to the destruction facility. Once full, the bunker will be sealed with a layer of soil and then a waterproof cover consisting of soil, bitumen and cement. The cover will slope from the center of the bunker to enable water to run off and collect in sumps for sampling and removal.

U.S./Russian Joint Evaluation of the Russian Two-Stage Destruction Process

CTR assistance includes development of the Russian two-stage chemical agent destruction technology, a process that began with the Joint Evaluation of the proposed technology, includes the on-going optimization phase, and will conclude with a demonstration of the technology on a scale-up system prior to construction of the full-scale process. The Joint Evaluation marked the first time U.S. and Russian scientists had collaborated on destruction technologies for chemical weapons. By working together, U.S. scientists were able to develop a better understanding of the Russian two-stage destruction process, and Russian scientists were able to benefit from an opportunity to collaborate with their U.S. counterparts on the complexities of initiating a chemical weapons destruction program.

Phase 1 of the Joint Evaluation occurred between May and August 1995 at a laboratory maintained by the U.S. Army's Chemical and Biological Defense Command at the Edgewood Area of the Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland. Using laboratory-grade nerve agent, U.S. scientists were able to demonstrate that the process could achieve consistently high destruction efficiencies. Subsequently, during October and November 1995, Russian scientists tested munitions-grade nerve agent at the Saratov Higher Military Engineering School of Chemical Defense near Moscow. Again, tests showed that the technology could destroy more than 99 percent of the nerve agent.

To determine if the chosen technology would be successful in destroying the variety of chemical nerve agents present in the Russian stockpile, the Joint Evaluation effort had to demonstrate:

  • The effectiveness of the technology in irreversibly destroying the nerve agent;
  • The safety of the technology in terms of protectiveness to human health and the environment; and
  • The scientific credibility of the technology (i.e., the results of the evaluation must be documented and able to be reproduced by other scientists under the same conditions using the same protocol).

Following the Joint Evaluation, a six-member Peer Review Committee consisting of three Americans and three Russians evaluated the test results and concluded that the chosen technology met or exceeded each of these requirements. The program issued a final report in March 1996 documenting the test results. The report detailed that the two-stage destruction process effectively eliminated 99.99 percent of three types of nerve agents, while the bitumin salt mass resulting from the two-stage process was determined to be safe for disposal in a specially constructed landfill.

Once completed this facility will be capable of eliminating over 500 metric tons of agent per year. As of 1998 construction and systemization of the Russian Chemical Weapons Destruction Facility (RCWDF) was scheduled for completion in 2004. In 1999 the US Congress suspended funding for the Shchuch'ye chemical weapons destruction facility in Russia. Pending congressional funding, he United States currently planned to have the facility ready for operation in 2008.

The FY01 Defense Authorization bill in the U.S. also requires that for continued American funding for the construction of the key Shchuch'ye facility, the U.S. obtain "multiyear commitments from the international community for the support of social infrastructure projects for Shchuch'ye."

Virtually none of Russia's declared 40,000 metric tons have been destroyed to date. U.S.-Russian cooperation to destroy all of the chemically-filled nerve gas shells at Shchuchye remains stalled by Congressional requirements. In July 2002 U.S. Sen. Dick Lugar introduced legislation to allow the destruction of a vast stockpile of former Soviet chemical weapons. The amendment introduced during the debate on the Defense Appropriations bill would allow the administration to waive congressionally imposed conditions that have prevented the destructions of chemical weapons. The Bush Administration supported the amendment.



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