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Transcript : DoD News Briefing : Monday, January 22, 1996 - 1 p.m.

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ATSD PA
January 24, 1996 1:00 PM EDT

Monday, January 22, 1996 - 1 p.m.

(Also participating in this briefing were Major General Robert Orton, Manager, Chemical Demilitarization Program and Major General George Friel, CG, U.S. Army Chemical and Biological Defense Command)

Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon. Welcome to our briefing.

As you know, the United States has embarked upon a program to eliminate its chemical weapons stockpile by the year 2004. We've been talking about this elimination in percentage terms of our total stockpile, without ever identifying the size of the stockpile or the size of the various stockpiles around the country.

Today we are going to be able to release to you the size of the stockpile and where the stockpile is allocated around the country. It's part of our campaign of openness about our efforts to eliminate weapons of mass destruction.

We have here two leaders of the program, Major General Robert Orton who is the program manager for the Chemical Demilitarization Program at Aberdeen Proving Grounds; and Major General George Friel who is the Commanding General of the United States Army Chemical and Biological Defense Command. They will each begin with brief statements, and then be glad to take your questions.

General Orton: Thank you. As the program manager for chemical demilitarization, my mission is to destroy the United States chemical weapons stockpile and related material, doing so with full attention to the safety of the workforce that we employ, the public, and the environment.

Today's announcement is a positive action for the chemical demilitarization effort. The declassification now allows local citizens, state and federal regulators, and others impacted by the destruction process easy access to specific stockpile information without the burdens entailed in handling classified information. This will help minimize misunderstandings, expedite environmental permitting processes, and save money. It also may enhance our credibility by confirming that we're not holding back from regulators and the public information they need to operate. In essence, it eliminates a serious irritant.

This action is also helpful in that it will make it easier for all involved to understand the challenge we face with the large size and complexity of our stockpile. Now that the public knows the exact quantities of chemical agents and weapons stored in their communities, we will continue to work together to get on with the business at hand -- that is ridding our country and the world of the threat of chemical weapons.

Thank you. General Friel: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I'm Major General George Friel, the Commander of the Chemical/ Biological Defense Command, also headquartered at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, next door to General Orton's organization.

CBD COM, the organization I command, is responsible for the safe storage and the preparation of the stockpile for its ultimate destruction. Along with that goes the responsibility for managing the emergency preparedness program of each of our storage sites, and a national response force that is capable of responding if we did have an accident in one of those sites.

This announcement today is extremely important to us, because for several years we've been frustrated in our dealing with the local communities, in our inability to tell them exactly the type and quantities of munitions that we were dealing with. But I will tell you that we now can share that precise data with them in managing the emergency preparedness procedures, both with local, state, and other federal agencies.

I'd like to assure you that we've been working very closely with states, counties, and those federal agencies for several years, and all eight of those storage sites and the emergency response plans that we've developed over the years have been and will continue to be based on the exact, precise data that we're releasing today to you. So we have not provided information that hasn't been used in those planning procedures.

What we've done in the past is use that data with one thing in mind, and that is the maximum protection of the community residents and the workers who work at the storage sites that you see on the charts displayed here. We will continue to do so.

I think now General Orton and I will be happy to take your questions about the stockpile.

Q: General Orton mentioned that declassifying this information would enhance the credibility of the Army; and he mentioned the other positive aspects of this. I'm curious, why it's happening now, given it's been roughly ten years since Congress started destroying the stuff. Why has it taken ten years to get to this point, to give out this information?

A: The information has been classified up until recently for national security reasons.

Q: The national security situation hasn't changed for several years. What's changed to make it no longer a security risk?

A: The stockpile that we're currently preparing to destroy is no longer considered part of the national stockpile that would be used for war. Therefore, it's no longer a national security interest and doesn't require the classification.

Up until recently, the treaty process allowed us to begin the destruction process and rid our country of the chemical weapons, as the President has previously announced. It was considered part of our national warfighting capability.

Q: Up until when?

A: Up until the President renounced the use of chemical weapons, and we're going to rid ourselves of those weapons.

Q: When was that?

A: That's been about three years ago.

Q: Do you have numbers? Rough numbers of the weapons that are being destroyed.

A: Of the total stockpile?

Q: Yes.

A: I don't have the total numbers.

A: The weapons encompass about 30,000 agent tons which is our means of measuring quantities of these things. That's a stockpile that's been unchanged for a number of years.

You will now see some variation in that because we are, in fact, in the process of destroying some of the weapons as we sit. Destruction has been going on at our demil facility on Johnston Island for several years now, and the most recent campaign has been going on for the past seven or eight months and has destroyed a significant portion of the stockpile.

 

Q: The chart here is about 1,600 individual weapons, is that right?

A: No, if you'll look at one of the charts that's available, the total military stockpile, that which we considered part of the national stockpile, is a little over three million items. That is bombs, rockets, munitions, and mines. To be precise, 3,321,180, but that could probably have changed as of today because we are demilling munitions as we speak.

Q: Do you have a time table when all this would be removed and destroyed?

A: The munitions are not moving. We're not moving those. They're currently remaining at these eight storage sites. There is a plan. I'll let General Orton address that, because part of it has to do with our treaty obligations as well.

A: Our plan as laid out in our environmental impact statement, programmatic one, several years ago, is to destroy the weapons at their storage sites. There are eight sites, as you see from the graphic over here on the left, scattered across the nation, and one site at Johnston Island in the Pacific. Our plan is to destroy all that stockpile by the end of the year 2004.

Q: Do you have the facilities built in any of these places to do that?

A: The facility is built at Johnston Island and is in operation. A second facility has been built at Tooele, Utah, at the depot there, and is going through the final stages of prove-out testing and proofing before going into production. We are engaged with the state to validate that we're in compliance with their permits for our thing before we start up.

Q: How much is it going to cost to build all of these destruction facilities and operate them through the year 2004? What's it going to cost to get rid of the chemical weapon stockpile?

A: The life cycle costs for building the plants, going through all the permitting processes, operating them, and eventually closing them, is on the order of magnitude of $12 billion.

Q: These figures you have given us are as-of last month. How much has already been destroyed that's not included? In other words, is this less what has been destroyed over the past year or so? And what was the peak level of stockpile and when was that?

A: The peak level of the stockpile was prior to the beginning of the demilitarization operation at Johnston Island. If I'm not mistaken, we probably destroyed in the neighborhood of about 300,000 rounds.

Q: Three hundred thousand tons?

A: No, rounds.

Q: How about tons?

Q: It's in the news release.

A: I think that will sort out in the data pages that are provided with your package. I can search through it, but to give you an example of how this works...

We have destroyed 120,531 items at Johnston Island since it began operation. That's 893.9 agent tons.

Q: That's all that's been destroyed?

A: Right.

Q: Which is less, than say 10 percent?

A: Yes, it's about three percent, 3-1/2. We are cranking up at this point in time, so...

Q: What is your greatest challenge as you work toward eliminating all of these weapons?

A: I think it's in ensuring that we do it with full protection of the public that's in the communities that surround the plants, the environment there, and importantly, our folks who work on these plants. Safety is a challenge; safety is a paramount feature in our effort as we go forward with that.

Q: Are you guaranteeing safety?

A: We have an extensive safety design process that goes into the design of the plant. We have proved out the plant using Johnston in advance to verify the equipment works and so on. We use an extensive training program. We have a full scale plant at Aberdeen Proving Ground that is used to train plant workers so they can go in and work with the plant where there is no agent present, and learn how to do it and what makes all the machinery tick and so on, so when they come onto the live agent plants, they're fully trained in that regard.

We have a series of inspections and oversight procedures that go on by agencies separated from my command to give an independent look at ensuring all safety measures are being properly taken and implemented across the operation.

Q: Is the math about right, you have 3.3 million now, and destroyed roughly 200,000, so it's equal to about 3.6 million, is that math about right?

A: It sounds right.

Q: How do they get from the United States to the Pacific?

A: Let me back up and make sure that it remains perfectly clear. We do not plan on moving the stockpile that's located there. The rounds at Johnston Island were there prior to the beginning of the demilitarization operation. We added some to those in 1990 when we deployed those from Germany, but prior to that, those rounds had been stored at Johnston Island for many years. We're not taking any rounds from these eight storage sites to Johnston Island.

Q: Where are you taking them to destroy them?

A: They're going to stay right where they are.

Q: They're going to be destroyed there at these facilities?

A: Yes.

Q: When do you start Tooele?

A: Tooele's in the final stages. It depends on the requirements the state feels necessary to validate our operation. Those are being worked mutually with the state and our people on-site. When we have reached the point we are all satisfied we have done all we should do and can do to ensure it's safe and ready to operate, then we'll turn it on. I would guess that would be within a six-month time window.

Q: Isn't it correct that originally the plan was to do all the destruction at the Johnston Atoll and at Tooele, and have these other sites been added? These were always storage sites, but wasn't it initially the plan to transfer them to one of those two sites to destroy them?

A: No, it never was.

Q: It was always the plan to build destruction facilities at every site?

A: I've been at it since the middle '70s, and it has not ever been the plan to do what you described.

We went through an extensive environmental review of options for doing this job. We published a draft programmatic environmental impact statement that went across the nation to all the communities where the sites are and to all of those folks that would be affected if any of them were to move. We developed beyond that into a formal programmatic impact statement that looked at three options. One was to do it all at one site, move all the weapons to one site; the second was to move it to two regional sites; and the third was to do it in place, where it sits right now. That environmental impact statement process concluded that the least risk to the public, the least chance of incident or accident or what have you, was incorporated in doing it where they are without moving them across the country. That was the decision taken by the Defense Department at the time we established the program.

Q: How are they being destroyed? Are they being incinerated, disassembled, separated?

A: Yes, yes, and yes. (Laughter)

To the extent we can, doing simple operations that are safe, we take pieces and parts off. For instance, a mortar shell that will have a little half-moon shaped piece of propellant powder on the stem, we pull that off. We then put it... The plant is then designed to handle agent, to handle explosives, to handle metal parts, and packing material, dunnage and so forth. There are channels for each of those waste streams that involve their destruction. So in that sense, yeah, we're taking them apart. We open and access the agent in a munition, drain that out and destroy it in one incinerator, then deal with the metal parts which may still have agent on them in another incinerator.

Q: That's why binary weapons are easier, presumably?

A: Yes. They're handled in a different category. Because the binary weapons are made of materials that in and of themself are not the super toxic things such as the agent. They may be caustic like lye or something of that sort, but they're not near the level of danger, and they're in separate pieces, stored separately in accordance with the law, and those will be destroyed by another agency that works for me in due time.

Q: And unitary agents that pop up on this better and better incinerated, the incinerators, what sort of safeguards do you have on the incinerators to keep these things from being released into...

A: We have designed the plant with redundant systems to reduce any odds of escape or accidental breech of the system itself. We have developed and designed state of the art, if you will, monitoring systems that are spread throughout the plant and at all points where there may be some admission from the plant, stack monitors and that kind of thing to prevent any situation going where we would be putting to the outside atmosphere what we had been working on inside the plant. The plant itself is pressured in such a way that all air flow is into the plant and out through a pollution abatement system, filtration, sophisticated filters of various types that screen all the air before it goes back out to the atmosphere.

Let me get a picture of our plant up here so you can get a feel for the size of it. That's the Johnston Atoll plant, and this is the Tooele plant in the background. These are not small operations by any means.

Q: What's the connection, if any, between this operation and efforts to get the global treaty on chemical weapons ratified?

A: As I mentioned earlier, and I may not have been precise, but the President in his last State of the Union and our previous President, have both made a commitment to eliminating the world from chemical weapons. It's part of the non-proliferation strategy of our country, and I'll let the expert describe it if you want more detail.

It was decided by our senior leaders that we would be the example, and as part of the agreement we've had with the Russians, and before that with the USSR, in an MOU and the bilateral destruction agreements, we decided if we would have to show, as an example, the destruction of our stockpiles, so therefore the President made an announcement in his last State of the Union that we would destroy our weapons to kick start the process, and that's what we're doing.

Q: What's the non-stockpile chemical material? What does that refer to?

A: I can describe it. It's those things that were not considered part of our specific strategic stockpile, plus...

Q: Weapons?

A: They may be weapons if we remove them from the ground. They may not have been United States weapons. They may have been weapons that we captured during the first or second World War, they may have been research munitions that we used in our test ranges that failed to explode and got buried, or were buried as part of the past practices. We've since dug those up, and now we're storing those under conditions that would be appropriate, i.e., for hazardous waste and toxic materials at our storage sites. Ultimately, we'll destroy those as well.

Binary munitions, as General Orton mentioned, are also categorized as non-stockpile because of the way we plan to destroy them. And over the years we used to test the purity and the serviceability of our munitions by tracking agents from the various stockpile rounds, and we would then send that to laboratories and test it. When we did that, then we'd have to drain a round since it was no longer useable. We've stored some of that in ton containers at our storage sites, and that's considered non-stockpile.

So it's a conglomeration of munitions and agents, plus all the production facilities that the United States built to produce munitions that we're obligated to tear down and destroy under the treaty are also considered non-stockpile.

Q: Where it says "to be determined", the contents of these, it's because they've come from somewhere else or...

A: It may have been either U.S. munitions or those that were from, that we were either exploiting a foreign technology or captured those during one of the previous wars, that we've not been able to determine the exact content, so we store them with the worst case assumption.

Q: They're being destroyed as well?

A: They will be under the non-stockpile program. General Orton has a separate PM that's managing that alone.

Q: Is there a contingency program for the day when the United States may need some sort of chemical weapons again? Does the Army continue research on this sort of thing?

A: Not for offensive use. We have renounced the use of chemical weapons as part of the national policy. The Army is currently not doing any research on offensive use, except from the standpoint of how to defend against them, how an enemy would use them, but not for our own use. We are not developing...

Q: Did the Army ever need these things?

A: Certainly. Absolutely.

Q: Why?

A: If you read the history books, and it's very hard to judge now, but when I was cleaning up the munitions in Northern D.C. at Spring Valley, and looked at the research documents and the public media at the time in 1917, 1918, this country was being subjected to some terrible weapons in Europe. It became part of our national strategy to prevent other countries from ever using them again, and it did that very successfully. No other country ever used chemical weapons against us after World War I when we developed our stockpile, because we threatened to retaliate in kind. So they were useful and important, but they're no longer needed.

Q: They were never used?

A: The United States did use chemical weapons in World War I.

Q: After World War I?

A: No, we did not.

Q: What is the deterrent now?

A: You're asking questions that are well above my pay grade.

A: The basic philosophy is that the overwhelming force of the United States armed forces, if threatened with chemical weapons, would intimidate somebody from using them, or we would go after them. We complement that with a very extensive and comprehensive chemical defense program for our Army as it goes into the field, providing it the means to detect, identify, and protect and decontaminate our soldiers in the field if necessary, so an enemy would not necessarily gain an operational advantage by using these weapons at that point in time.

Q: How old are some of the items in the stockpile? How far back do they go?

A: Let me give it to you this way. The youngest one was filled in March 1968; the others were filled at varying points in time from the closure of World War II until 1968.

Q: So nothing before the end of World War II?

A: We might find in the non-stockpile category some of those that were brought back at the conclusion of World War II for scientific review, examination, and so on. Occasionally those show up. But we don't have large stocks of anything pre-dating World War II.

Q: What is Russia doing about her chemical weapons? How are they dealing with them?

A: As a nation, they have made the same pledge that we have made, that they will be ridding themselves of their chemical weapons. They're exploring programs to engage in demilitarization of the stocks that they have. We are in a cooperative mode with the Russian Republic in sharing information about our programs and what we have learned about processes so that both of us can better do that job.

Q: They're supposed to be done with their stockpile by the end of 2004 also?

A: 2004 is a self-imposed date by the United States. That's our goal based on our view of the risks entailed in retaining the weapons. It may be related to the implementation of the Chemical Warfare Convention at some time in the future, and that Convention, when brought into force, will require all holders of chemical weapons to proceed with the destruction, complete it within ten years with a six month run-up time. Ten-and-a-half years across the board. So Russia would be under that same time criteria as would be any other holders that might declare stockpiles.

A: The basic destruction agreement, or bilateral destruction agreement we've been negotiating with the Russians has those dates in there as a commitment on the part of the United States. Part of that was also to get them to commit early to the destruction. The CWC, Chemical Weapons Convention, has a ten-year mandatory destruction deadline, and that would make it to 2006. But our current commitment as a government is 2004.

A: 2006 is ratified.

Q: As I understand, the original calls for destroying the stockpile was estimated beyond the order of $1 or $2 billion. What caused it to increase to $12 billion? Secondly, I understand that local opposition has slowed down the process a lot. What effect do you expect this declassification to have on either inflaming or diffusing that opposition?

A: I would hope it would do neither. Neither inflame or defuse. It will provide people with the knowledge necessary for informed discussion, informed decision making as we go down the line to do that. So I don't think it's going to be either?

The first part of your question again?

Q: About the cost increase.

A: The program has changed widely over the years. It initially encompassed only one type of weapon that was obsolete and relatively difficult to handle in storage, the so-called M-55 rocket. The program has expanded to the whole stockpile. The program has had changing standards of environmental protection and other things to deal with. All of those have driven the program up. There have also been delays for decision making over time that also run the cost up.

Q: What was the original cost?

A: It depends on what program you're talking about. It really comes from about $7 or $8 billion up to where we are today. There is a figure that's out, $1.2 billion, that was rockets only.

Q: That's only for the unitary weapons?

A: Only the unitary weapons in the stockpile.

Q: How much is it going to cost to destroy the binary ones?

A: I'll need to look that up to see if I've got a note on the cost.

Q: The production of the binary weapons was during what years? The mid '80s, early '90s?

A: It terminated in 1990 when the MOU was signed and we had an agreement with the Soviet Union to begin looking at programs to destroy the weapons. Part of the agreement was to stop at that point all production. So in 1990 we stopped all binary production activities.

Q: When did it start?

A: I think in '86 we actually began the production.

A: '87.

Q: Between '69 and '86 there was no production at all?

A: In '86 we...

A: It was actually '87, and there was no production from March of '68 until that time, right.

Q: What other countries are the leading countries in chemical weapons? How many other countries have chemical weapons?

A: We've had no other countries under the current agreements declare a stockpile. We do have other countries that have stockpiles they used in war that are currently buried that we're going to eventually help maybe dig it up, but no active stockpile has been declared except by the Russians.

Q: But we know that Iraq has them, that China has chemical weapons, there must be some others.

A: Certainly. We credit other nations with having chemical weapons programs of some level. It may be research, it may be small quantity manufacturing, it may be full bore stockpiles, and there are folks with full bore stockpiles around that have not discussed it yet. Overall we have briefed, in the order of magnitude, 20 to 30 nations that have worked in the CW program.

Q: And only the U.S and Russia have said that.

A: The Iraqis declared, but under duress.

Press: Thank you.