Blue Grass Army Depot safely removed 42 nerve-agent rockets, officials say

gkocher1@herald-leader.comMay 15, 2014 

M55 rockets containing VX nerve agent are stored in a secure bunker at Bluegrass Army Depot in Richmond , KY. Photo taken during a media tour of the facility on September 6, 2001. Photo by Pablo Alcala Staff

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The removal of propellant sections from 42 nerve-agent rockets was finished this week at Blue Grass Army Depot in Madison County.

The operation, which began March 26, was completed "safely and without incident," according to a news release Thursday from Blue Grass Chemical Activity, the chemical weapons operation at the depot. The last M55 rocket motor was removed Tuesday, the news release said.

Each warhead, which contains the chemical agent, was "overpacked" into a single round container and placed in a storage igloo — an earthen bunker. The igloo has a ventilation system that captures any vapor if nerve agent is released.

The Army wants to test and verify the stability of the propellents so it can determine whether the destruction of other motor sections should be done in the plant that is now under construction at the depot or elsewhere on the depot.

Of the 42 motor sections that were removed, 23 will be shipped to the Army Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center at Picatinny Arsenal, N.J., for compositional analyses and sensitivity testing.

Upon completion of propellant analyses and testing there, the rocket motors will be destroyed at the arsenal in New Jersey. Each rocket motor has been certified free of chemical agent.

The remaining 19 rocket motors were placed into storage at the depot for future testing.

A similar operation to separate motors from rockets was conducted at the depot in the 1980s. Similar operations were performed at weapons storage and disposal sites in Umatilla, Ore., and Pine Bluff, Ark.

Greg Kocher: (859) 231-3305. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety.

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