Chemical Weapons Destruction:

Advantages and Disadvantages of Alternatives to Incineration

NSIAD-94-123: Published: Mar 18, 1994. Publicly Released: Apr 21, 1994.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed technological disposal processes that could be alternatives to the incineration of chemical weapons, focusing on: (1) the development status of these alternative technologies; (2) the cost of the technologies; and (3) their performance characteristics.

GAO found that: (1) the most feasible alternative disposal technologies are in the initial stages of development and over a decade away from full-rate operations; (2) the National Research Council advocates concurrent development of alternative technologies for destroying bulk agents and predicts that this approach could reach full-rate operations by the congressional deadline of December 31, 2004; (3) government experience with concurrent development shows that it carries inherent risks in terms of technical performance, permit delays, testing delays, and increased cost; (4) any alternative technology would have to undergo rigorous Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) analysis and evaluation; (5) cost and performance estimates for alternative technologies cannot be determined, since the technologies are in the earliest stages of development; (6) alternative technologies need to be combined to be effective, since any one would not be sufficient, by itself, to destroy an entire chemical weapon; (7) EPA has testified that the Army's current disposal program fully complies with or surpasses EPA environmental and public health protection requirements; and (8) although the Johnston Atoll facility has had mechanical and training problems which have slowed its destruction rates, there have been no reported problems associated with destroying the chemical agent within EPA requirements.

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