More than 30,000 tons of chemical warfare agents stored in eight states are "reasonably stable," but leakages of nerve gas from M55 rockets in Alabama and Utah are a growing worry, the Pentagon said Friday.
In a report assessing the condition of the chemical weapons stock-pile, the Pentagon said no one is in immediate danger. But it said risks will increase if there are further delays in the Army's $12 billion incineration program.The Army plans to build incinerators at each of the eight chemical storage sites. A pilot plant on Johnston Atoll in the Pacific Ocean already has destroyed tons of chem-i-cals, including some M55 rockets found to be leaking.
The Army has faced numerous delays in beginning operation of an incinerator at Tooele Army Depot in Utah, about 45 miles southwest of Salt Lake City. It now expects to start operating this summer. The next one will be built at Anniston, Ala. Most of the leaking M55 rockets are stored at Tooele and Ann-is-ton.
"The uncertainty associated with the stability of leaking M55 rockets requires immediate attention," the report said.
The Army has developed a contingency plan if it decides the rockets are unsafe to keep in storage. The plan is to separate the chemical warhead from the rocket propellant section - a slow process the Army so far has considered to be unnecessary.
The rockets, which contain about 2,000 tons of sarin gas and the nerve agent VX, are stored in smaller numbers at Richmond, Ky.; Hermiston, Ore.; and Pine Bluff, Ark.