RICHMOND — A chemical weapons stockpile of about 520 tons being stored in Kentucky is one step closer to destruction.
The fire water pump house at the Blue Grass Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant was declared operational Thursday at Blue Grass Army Depot.
Site project manager Jeff Brubaker said Richmond's plant is one of nine similar chemical agent destruction projects — four have been completed, three are in the process of destroying chemical agents and one other facility, in Pueblo, Colo., also is in the construction phase.
The agents have been stored at the Richmond depot since the 1960s, Brubaker said, and over time degrade and pose a greater chance of leaking, thus creating a need to destroy them.
The completed pump house will provide process water for the chemical destruction, and water for fire suppression should the need ever arise, Brubaker said. The structure consists of two 250,000-gallon tanks filled with water and the pump house itself.
Public affairs specialist Stephanie Parrett said the plant's construction is set to be completed in 2016, and destruction of the stockpile will begin in 2018 and finish in 2021.
The weapons will be destroyed using a neutralization process that eventually, through a process called supercritical water oxidation, breaks down the agents into carbon dioxide, water and salts.
The pump house is also a move toward safety during the plant's operations.
"We always are working on safety," said Tom McKinney, project manager with Bechtel Parsons Blue Grass, the group constructing and running the facility. "We take safety very seriously here."
The destruction process will take place in a structure built with 26-inch thick concrete walls, designed to contain effects of a detonation.
"We don't expect there would be a detonation," Brubaker said.
Special self-consolidating concrete was used in construction to prevent any voids, McKinney said.
"We are doing things here that have gained national attention," he said. "In that case, it's a very important project."