US plant that destroys chemical weapons beset by troubles

DENVER (AP) — A highly automated, multibillion-dollar plant in Colorado that destroys U.S. chemical weapons is over budget, behind schedule and bedeviled by troubles that could worsen the danger to workers.

But when the Army said this month it wants to spend millions extra installing more traditional technology to help the beleaguered plant and reduce worker risk, public reaction was more resignation than anger.

"Yes, the process has been too slow and too expensive, but this is the price paid to protect the workers and neighbors of this site," said Marco Kaltofen, a nuclear and chemical engineering researcher at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts.

Defense contractor Bechtel Inc. spent 12 years designing, building and testing the plant at the Pueblo Chemical Depot to disassemble and neutralize 780,000 decades-old shells filled with liquid mustard agent stored at the site.

Mustard agent – first used in World War I – can maim or kill, blistering skin, scarring eyes and inflaming airways.

The heavily guarded depot spreads across 36 square miles of rolling, brushy terrain about 15 miles from the city of Pueblo. The plant destroying the weapons is a collection of nondescript industrial buildings and tanks connected by a web of pipelines.

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