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Small leak detected in M55 rocket containing sarin gas

RICHMOND — A leak was detected Thursday in a M55 rocket holding the nerve agent GB at the Blue Grass Army Depot, officials said.

The leak comes a day after crews began neutralizing 157 gallons of GB, also known as sarin, in a plan called Operation Swift Solution. Thursday's leak was unrelated to the neutralizing plan, which will destroy sarin that is stored in three steel ton containers at the depot.

Officials said Thursday's leak occurred in one of the rockets that hold the sarin. They are kept in airtight shipping and firing tubes that crews periodically inspect for leaks.

During an inspection Thursday, crews detected a leak in a tube when a technician removed a bolt to sample the air inside it. The low-level sarin vapor that was detected was confined to the tube and didn't seep into the igloo in which the rockets are kept, said Richard Sloan, spokesman for Blue Grass Chemical Activity, the agency that oversees chemical weapons at the depot.

Two to five of these leaks take place each year, Sloan said.

The rocket will be overpacked in a leak-proof container and stored in another igloo containing similar GB munitions in the next few days, Sloan said.

Operation Swift Solution began on Wednesday, after more than a year of preparation and delays.

Officials decided to destroy this batch of nerve agent because of corrosion that has occurred within the ton containers. The oldest container, which has been particularly problematic for crews, was responsible for the largest leak in depot history when a gallon of sarin escaped in August 2007.

The operation's first two days have gone smoothly, Sloan said. Two one-gallon batches of sarin have been neutralized.

"I haven't heard of any upset conditions at all," Sloan said, "and the people that are doing it seem pleased."

Operation Swift Solution is scheduled to be complete by February. The rest of the sarin, along with mustard agent and VX that is stored at the depot, must be destroyed by a government-mandated 2017 deadline.