A dangerous era is expected to end in January, when Dugway Proving Ground halts all testing of chemical weapons, according to Dugway's technical director.
That month, President Bush is expected to sign a treaty banning the production and testing of chemicals, William Haslem told the State Advisory Council on Science and Technology. Dugway officials briefed the group Thursday afternoon in the Capitol.Many other countries are signing the convention, he said. "So we're getting out of the chemical weapons altogether."
As late as last year, Dugway tested simulant material in an attempt to develop binary nerve gas weapons. Among the tests planned were the open-air release of hazardous simulants used to test the Bigeye binary nerve gas bomb.
Binary bombs are supposed to use two relatively harmless chemicals, which become lethal when mixed upon detonation. An Army report said that even one of the simulants - triethyl phosphate - is itself toxic in high concentrations, but the Army said the tests would not be hazardous.
Dugway stopped open-air testing of chemical warfare agents in 1969; the previous year, toxic material sprayed from an airplane drifted in the wrong direction and killed 6,000 sheep that were grazing in Skull Valley.
Haslem tied the expected signing of the treaty to the end of the Cold War. "Munitions testing is going away because the government is coping with the outbreak of peace," he said.
The treaty is circulating around the world under the auspices of the United Nations, he told the Deseret News. The United States has agreed to it in principle, and it may be signed in January.
When the treaty takes effect, the United States will have the same stance toward nerve agent and other chemical weapons as now maintained against germ warfare: The only tests allowed will be to develop de-fenses.
"It prohibits the manufacture, testing or storage of chemical munitions, and nearly all nations are expected to sign it," Haslem said.
"It just puts us totally out of any chemical weapons testing."
However, a handful of countries - including Iraq - are holding out, refusing to sign the treaty. That means the world won't be able to celebrate the end of these terrible weapons.
The continuing threat will require Dugway to test protective gear, detectors and disinfectants designed to safeguard American troops. But, Haslem added, "There won't be any weapons."
The 840,000-acre desert base will continue missions in many other areas, such as testing guidance systems for smart bombs and the development of biological weapons defenses. One of the most exotic Dugway projects is the new "bang box" - a device like a gigantic swimming pool cover, which contains the fumes from exploding munitions so they can be analyzed.