Chemical Weapons:

Stability of the U.S. Stockpile

NSIAD-95-67: Published: Dec 22, 1994. Publicly Released: Jan 9, 1995.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the stability of the U.S. chemical weapons stockpile, focusing on the Army's: (1) estimate of how long chemical weapons can be stored safely; and (2) contingency plans for disposing of chemical weapons that become dangerous.

GAO found that: (1) the Army's assessment that the chemical weapons stockpile can be safely stored until 2004 is questionable based on inconsistencies in the assessment's supporting data; (2) Sandia National Laboratory officials believe that the Army's assessment data are outdated and no longer representative of the munitions in actual field storage; (3) Sandia National Laboratory officials recommended that the Army expand its stockpile monitoring activities to include propellant samples from non-leaking and leaking munitions at each storage location because the aging problems in its nuclear weapon systems are similar to those encountered in the chemical weapon stockpile; (4) although the Army has established a work group to review its assessment and received $4.5 million to expand its stockpile monitoring activities, these expanded monitoring activities will not resolve all of the questions concerning the stability of the stockpile; (5) the Army needs to establish a contingency plan for emergency disposal of the M55 rocket because it is the only munition in the stockpile that cannot be easily defused; and (6) although the Army is studying several ways to dispose of the M55 rocket, additional information on its specific hazards is needed before a contingency plan can be finalized.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to GAO's recommendation, the Army initiated the Enhanced Stockpile Surveillance Program in January 1995 to improve its assessment data, identify hazards associated with leaking M55 rockets, and determine specific methods to deal with leaking munitions. Also in September 1996, the Army issued a contingency plan for the M55 rockets. The plan identifies response actions that may be required if there is an accelerated deterioration of the rockets.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army to expand the Army's monitoring program to resolve questions about the stockpile's stability and develop a contingency plan for emergency disposal of M55 rockets. The expanded program should include an analysis and implementation of the processes that would be necessary to safely take field samples from all storage sites and from leaking munitions, and include milestones and required resources. The plan should also identify specific methodologies to be used, and specific milestones and resources.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense


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