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Portable Machine to Dispose of Chemical Weapons

Portable Machine to Dispose of Chemical Weapons



Estimated read time: 2-3 minutes

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John Hollenhorst ReportingDugway is finally getting some help solving an old dilemma -- how to get rid of dangerous chemical weapons found lying in the desert 11 years ago. The plan is to blow them up, very quietly.

There's a lot of gleaming stainless steel on the flatbed truck. The army showed it off to the public in Tooele before putting it to use at Dugway. The centerpiece is a drum that looks and behaves like a big washing machine.

What goes inside the drum is what you might think of as the Army's dirty laundry, old chemical munitions left lying around on army bases, or abandoned army bases.

The portable demolition machine has already destroyed chemical weapons in several states, including some from World War I that were dug up in downtown Washington.

Inside the drum, bombs or artillery shells are detonated. The explosion is so well contained, observers only hear dull thump. The exploded debris goes on spin-cycle for hours, even days, as a chemical bath is injected to neutralize nerve agents and other toxic weapons.

Robert Carestia, U.S.Army: "And right now we're approved for Mustard, G.B., Sarin and Phosgene." Hollenhorst: "Well, those are some of the scarier ones." A: "Yes, yes."

In the old days, the army would just bury them and forget them. That's how they got into the dilemma they're in today.

Tim Blades, U.S. Army: "What happened was, a lot of the time those burial sites weren't well documented, the sites were abandoned. And we have this as an issue."

It's believed that thousands of chemical weapons may be lurking around the country. No one knows when or if they'll ever be fully destroyed.

Tim Blades: "You just don't know. I mean how long does it take to find a needle in a haystack? How long does it take to find a number that no one knows what that number is?"

At Dugway the machine will dispose of bombs, shells and canisters filled with mustard agent and sarin. They were found lying around on test ranges. The number found at Dugway is 22, so far.

The portable demolition system is based at Aberdeen, Maryland. Officials at Dugway say they're glad to have its services. The 22 shells and canisters have been in storage for 11 years, waiting for disposal.

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