INEEL-designed system assists army with chemical weapon destruction

December 15, 2004

The United States is moving forward decisively on its commitment to destroy thousands of chemical munitions, thanks in part, to the efforts of engineers, scientists and technicians at the U.S. Department of Energy's Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Army's Technical Escort Unit at the Pine Bluff Arsenal, Pine Bluff, Ark., began operations to assess and characterize recovered chemical munitions stored at the Arsenal. Due to the variety of non-stockpile chemical materiel, the technicians must first confirm the contents of drums and individual munitions before they can select the treatment and disposal alternative that best protects the environment, and the health and safety of workers and the public.

The INEEL-designed and -fabricated Munitions Assessment System is a one-of-a-kind, series of stainless steel vapor confinement and support modules that assists the Army with the assessment of the chemical warfare materiel, some of which dates back to World War I.

The Munitions Assessment System is designed to process drums containing multiple chemical munitions. A drum is delivered to the unpack/repackage room via an inlet airlock. Once inside, technicians in protective suits open the drum and examine and assess each item before repackaging.

The system also includes several INEEL-developed technologies. The digital radiography and computed tomography system generates detailed X-rays and "CAT scans" of each munition and the portable isotopic neutron spectroscopy system, or PINS, identifies the chemical fill the munition may contain.

Operations began with the evaluation of drums containing Chemical Agent Identification Sets, which were produced by the Army from 1928 to 1969. These sets are glass ampules or bottles that contain small amounts of both neat and dilute chemical agents, and were used to train soldiers in the identification of possible chemical weapons.

INEEL engineers have designed and built several mobile systems for the U.S. Army to assess recovered chemical weapons materiel found in the field, such as the bomblets recently discovered at Rocky Mountain Arsenal in Colorado, or the World War I weapons found in suburban Washington, D.C. The Pine Bluff Arsenal facility-based "production line" system called for some special requirements.

"There were really two big pieces to this project," said Robert McMorland, INEEL's Munitions Assessment System project manager. "The first part is the modules. We moved munition-handling operations into an engineered controls environment. The second part, and equally important, is all of the support systems."

INEEL's engineering team designed heating/ventilation/air conditioning, electrical, breathing air, vacuum collection, personnel decontamination systems and every knob and tool to accommodate the heavily garbed technicians who wear as much as three sets of gloves and have limited mobility.

The U.S. Army Non-Stockpile Chemical Materiel Program has provided safe storage and monitoring of non-stockpile chemical weapons for more than 45 years. They lead the nation in the development and use of advanced technology to safely eliminate America's non-stockpile chemical material. The INEEL has been a significant contributor in this important mission.
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The INEEL is a science-based, applied engineering national laboratory dedicated to supporting the U.S. Department of Energy's missions in energy, national security, science and environmental research. The INEEL is operated for the DOE by Bechtel BWXT Idaho, LLC.

DOE/Idaho National Laboratory

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