Blue Grass Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant

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The Blue Grass Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant (BGCAPP) is a chemical weapons destruction facility under construction. The plant is being built to destroy the chemical weapons stockpile at the Blue Grass Army Depot (BGAD), near Richmond, Kentucky. The plant is dedicated to the destruction of 523 tons of nerve agents sarin (GB) and VX, and mustard agent, which constitute about two percent of the United States chemical weapons stockpile.[1]

Since 1944, the U.S. Army has stored approximately two percent of its original chemical weapons stockpile at BGAD. Destruction of this stockpile is a requirement of the Chemical Weapons Convention, an international treaty to which the United States is a party. The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is the implementing body of the Chemical Weapons Convention and monitors the progress of the nation’s chemical weapons destruction programs. The Program Executive Office, Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternatives (PEO ACWA) oversees the destruction of the Blue Grass chemical weapons stockpile.

Planning and organization[edit]

General layout of the plant in August 2013 briefing.

A systems contract was awarded in June 2003 to a joint venture team composed of the California companies Bechtel National, Inc., and Parsons Infrastructure and Technology Group, Inc. The Bechtel Parsons Blue Grass team is contracted to develop a design-build plan and then design, construct, systemize, pilot test, operate and close the Blue Grass Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant.

In March 2005 the design-build-operate-close schedule was extended to make the program more affordable on an annual basis. Site preparation work and the construction of support buildings continued and final designs for the remaining BGCAPP facilities were completed in 2010. After systemization of the facility, destruction operations are expected to begin in 2020 and to be complete by 2023.[2] The plant will operate until all the chemical weapons have been destroyed. Closure activities (shut-down, dismantling, and restoration of site) are slated to be wrapped up by 2026. This schedule exceeds the terms of the Chemical Weapons Convention.

Legislation enacted by the U.S. Congress in 2007 (Public Laws 110-116 and 110-181) mandates the destruction of the remaining U.S. national chemical stockpile in accordance with the April 2012 date, but in no circumstances later than Dec. 31, 2017.[3]

History of chemical demilitarization in Kentucky[edit]

Decade Milestones
1940s • Blue Grass Army Depot begins storage of chemical weapons containing mustard agent.
1960s • Blue Grass Army Depot begins storage of chemical weapons containing nerve agent.
1980s[4] • Public Law 99-145 designates the U.S. Army responsible for the destruction of the U.S. chemical weapons stockpile.
1990s[5] • Congress establishes the ACWA program to identify and demonstrate alternatives to incineration.

• Congress ratifies the Chemical Weapons Convention treaty, which directs all member nations to destroy their chemical weapons and production facilities.

2000s • Public Law 107-248 assigns ACWA responsibility for destruction of chemical weapons stored in Kentucky if an alternative technology is chosen.

• Department of Defense selects neutralization followed by supercritical water oxidation as the destruction method for the Kentucky stockpile.

• Bechtel Parsons Blue Grass awarded the contract to design, build, and operate the Blue Grass Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant (BGCAPP).

• The Secretary of Defense affirms to Congress that there are no options by which the U.S. can destroy 100 percent of its chemical stockpile by the extended Chemical Weapons Convention treaty deadline of April 29, 2012.

• BGCAPP Groundbreaking is held.

• Public Laws 110-116 and 110-181 are enacted, mandating destruction of the chemical stockpile by April 2012 or in no case later than December 31, 2017.

• Site preparation and basic facility infrastructure (perimeter fencing, lighting and underground utilities) is complete.

• Vertical construction of the personnel support building, the maintenance building and the badging facility is complete.

• Construction activities progress focusing on the facility's Munitions Demilitarization Building, Utility Power Centers, Fire Water Pump House, Utility Building and Supercritical Water Oxidation Building.

2010s • BGCAPP surpasses 4 million job hours worked without a lost-time injury.[6]

• Construction activities progress focusing on the facility's Munitions Demilitarization Building, Utility Power Centers, Fire Water Pump House, Utility Building, Supercritical Water Oxidation Processing Building and Control and Support Building.

• The Department of Defense accepts the final BGCAPP design.

• The systemization phase begins at BGCAPP. Construction teams turn over the first subsystems to the start-up groups for systemization testing and commissioning to begin preparing the facilities for chemical weapons destruction operations. The construction teams turn over the first building, the Fire Water Pump House, and the first system, the 138 kV Power Center, to the systemization team.[7]

• BGCAPP partners with the Blue Grass Chemical Activity to conduct an X-ray assessment of the mustard agent stockpile. The assessment shows that removal of mustard agent from projectiles would be difficult using the current BGCAPP design. The Blue Grass team evaluates the feasibility of utilizing Explosive Destruction Technology (EDT) to destroy this segment of the stockpile.[8]

• BGCAPP is designated as a Voluntary Protection Program Star Status site by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration.[9]

• In June 2013, Blue Grass Army Depot and PEO ACWA completed an environmental assessment to meet the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, and Title 32 Code of Federal Regulations Part 651, to address any potential impacts of the installation and operation of EDT at the depot. The environmental assessment concluded that the installation and operation of an EDT will have no significant environmental impacts. A draft Finding of No Significant Impact was prepared and provided for public comment for a 60-day period. It was concluded that no additional analysis was necessary for the proposed action under NEPA.[10]

• Bechtel Parsons Blue Grass received approval from PEO ACWA to begin initial work on an EDT system at the Blue Grass plant. Following a competitive procurement process, Bechtel Parsons selected the Static Detonation Chamber.[11]

• The Blue Grass Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant received approval from the Kentucky Department for Environmental Protection in 2014 to begin initial construction activities of an Explosive Destruction Technology facility.

• In 2014, systemization reached 25 percent completion at the Blue Grass Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant.[12]

• In 2015, the Bechtel Parsons Blue Grass Team earned recertification of Star Status in the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Voluntary Protection Program.[13]


The Department of Defense conducted studies[14] to evaluate potential impacts of the elimination of these weapons using incineration and non-incineration methods for the plant. Four technologies were considered:

  • incineration
  • chemical neutralization followed by supercritical water oxidation (SCWO)
  • chemical neutralization followed by supercritical water oxidation and gas phase chemical reduction
  • electrochemical oxidation

The Department of Defense selected neutralization followed by SCWO for use at the depot. The method comprises the following steps:

  • Munitions are disassembled by modified reverse assembly.[15]
  • The chemical agent and energetics are separated. Agent and energetics are chemically mixed with caustic or water to destroy the chemical agent using hydrolysis. The resulting chemical compounds are known as hydrolysates.
  • Hydrolysates are held and tested to ensure agent destruction before proceeding to secondary treatment.
  • The agent and energetic hydrolysates are fed to the SCWO units to destroy the organic materials. SCWO subjects the hydrolysate to very high temperatures and pressures, breaking them down into carbon dioxide, water and salts.
  • Metal parts are thermally decontaminated by high-pressure water washout and heating to 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit for a minimum of 15 minutes. The metal parts can then be safely recycled.
  • Gas effluents are filtered through a series of HEPA and carbon filters before being released to the atmosphere. Water is recycled into the pilot plant facility and reused as part of the destruction process.


After an X-ray assessment of the mustard munitions stockpile showed that the agent had significantly solidified in the rounds[16] -- making removal of mustard agent from projectiles difficult using neutralization and SCWO -- ACWA decided to explore use of Explosive Destruction Technology (aka Explosive Demolition Technology, Explosive Detonation Technology, EDT) for these projectiles.

EDT uses heat/pressure from explosion or just heat to destroy the munitions; it is not considered incineration and does not require disassembly of the weapons.[17] There are three general types of technologies that can destroy chemical weapons:

  • Detonation Technology – destroys the majority of the agent and explosive in the munition by detonating donor explosives wrapped around the munition. The resulting off-gasses are processed through secondary treatment to ensure agent destruction. Examples of detonation technology include the Transportable Detonation Chamber, or TDC, and the DAVINCH (Detonation of Ammunition in a Vacuum-Integrated Chamber).
  • Neutralization Technology[18] – uses small explosive shaped charges to open the munition and consume the explosive in the burster and fuze. The agent is destroyed by subsequent neutralization. The U.S. Army’s Explosive Destruction System, or EDS, is an example.
  • Thermal Destruction – uses the heat of the electrically heated containment vessel to deflagrate the munition and destroy the agent and energetics. The resulting gases are treated in an off-gas treatment system. The Static Detonation Chamber, or SDC, is an example of thermal destruction technology.

Bechtel Parsons Blue Grass received approval from PEO ACWA to begin initial work on an Explosive Destruction Technology system at the Blue Grass plant. Following a competitive procurement process, Bechtel Parsons selected the Static Detonation Chamber.[19]

Public outreach[edit]

The Blue Grass Chemical Stockpile Outreach Office was established to serve as the community’s primary information resource on chemical weapons destruction in Kentucky.[20] The office responds to inquiries, provides information materials and coordinates guest speakers for a variety of different civic groups and organizations and interfaces with the governor-appointed Kentucky Chemical Demilitarization Citizens’ Advisory Commission and its Chemical Destruction Community Advisory Board.[21]


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 This article incorporates public domain material from the United States Government document "[1]".

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