Syrian Chemical Weapon Disposal

A few months ago it seemed inevitable that Syria would be subjected to some sort of international military attack, given the world’s outrage at the Assad regime using chemical weapons against its own people. After tense negotiations and irrefutable evidence, Assad’s Syrian regime relented and agreed to let the UN come into its war-ravaged country to remove the stockpile of chemical weapons.

Against all logic, the international community getting its hands on the chemical weapons has proven to be the easy part of the equation. What remains mostly unknown and unresolved is how will the weapons be gathered, how can they be safely transported, where will they be destroyed, and by whom.

Terror Around Every Corner

The head of the mission to destroy the weapons recently announced that the United Nations are awaiting approval from an unnamed country to use its port to load the stockpiles of Syria’s most deadly chemicals onto a U.S. ship for offshore destruction.

The Hague-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which won the Nobel Peace Prize in October, has been given the task of overseeing destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons stocks under an agreement that saved Syria from U.S. long-distance missile strikes.

The OPCW recently announced that the United States has started modifying a U.S. naval vessel to equip it to destroy Syria’s 500 tons of chemicals, including actual nerve agents—neutralizing them offshore with other chemicals in a process known as hydrolysis.

Italy, Norway, and Denmark are a few notable countries that have offered to transport Syria’s chemicals from the northern Syrian port of Latakia with military escorts. The chemicals would then be transferred to the U.S. ship at a still to be announced port.

Several European countries declined to destroy Syria’s chemical arsenal on their own soil, at which point the OPCW announced the U.S. offered to break down the most lethal components in international waters. As currently painted, the plan is to see all the declared chemicals transferred to the coastline by the end of the year so they can be eliminated far away from the bloody fighting in Syria.

How Safe?

It makes you really wonder just how the transporters are going to get these chemical weapons from their present locations, across the debris fields of destruction, and to the port where they can be transported.

Here’s another thing. Syria is crawling with known terrorist groups and radical militants who would love nothing more than to get their hands on these chemical weapons. What would it mean for a convoy of chemical weapons to be captured by people who would relish the chance to use them in the most catastrophic circumstances possible?

We should all stop and think about that one. Obviously, security has to be of primary concern surrounding the gathering and transportation of these weapons.

The naval vessel the U.S. is modifying in Norfolk, VA is the MV Cape Ray, a 648-foot-long transport. The modification will include chemical-arms destruction gear for the workers tasked with the job. The field-deployable Hydrolysis System is approximately 400 feet by 700 feet and includes power generators, hazardous-waste storage, and a laboratory. The system, meant to ship in approximately 35 20-foot containers, needs only consumable materials such as water, reagents, and fuel to run.

The hydrolysis technology has been proven and used by the U.S. in destruction of its own stocks in the Army’s Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, and in Newport, Ind.  There has been no announcement as to whether military or civilian personnel will carry out the disposal operation. An OPCW official did say that private companies would likely be contracted to dispose of the waste after it has been neutralized.

Hydrolysis can neutralize five to 25 metric tons of chemical warfare agents a day, also creates liquid hazardous waste—roughly five to 14 times the quantity of the treated material.

Destroying the chemical materials, according to the Director-General of the OPCW, is expected to cost between $47- 61 million. The cost of destruction will actually be much higher when factoring in the price of the system, transporting the stockpiles, and disposing of the toxic waste afterward.


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