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Drums carrying chemicals.

Safely Handling and Testing M55 Chemical Agent Rockets for Neutralization and Destruction

Challenge

Blue Grass Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant (BGCAPP), located in Richmond, KY, and managed by Bechtel-Parsons Blue Grass Team (BPBGT) for the Army’s Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternatives (ACWA) program, wanted to destroy more than 70,000 chemical warfare agent M55 rockets. In the fall of 2008, tests conducted at Battelle’s High Energy Research Laboratory Area (HERLA) in Columbus, OH, found that that certain chemical warfare agent munitions components in the rotor assemblies of the M55 BG rocket fuze contained explosives that could potentially remain intact after treatment, which raised a potential problem for the overall operational strategy for on-site rocket destruction.

Additionally, the BGCAPP rocket treatment process design and construction planning were considered complete, and late design or structural changes would derail the schedule and incur severe cost penalties. After confirming the “treated” detonators were still explosive, Battelle identified, tested, and evaluated multiple options for handling the intact fuze assemblies.

Solution

Battelle assembled a cross-functional team of explosives handling experts, design and fabrication engineers, process engineers, analytical chemists, statisticians, software and data acquisition specialists, and quality assurance and safety specialists and divided the work into two phases. First, Battelle dispatched and trained staff to safely handle and transport eight M417 fuzes taken from M55 rockets that had been previously subjected to energetics batch hydrolyzer (EBH) caustic neutralization and then tested the fuzes to determine if they were still functional.

Second, the team fabricated and tested more than 150 surrogate fuze assemblies containing representative materials of the vintage munitions and explosive materials to determine if the hazardous fuzes could be transported safely. Design engineers and explosives experts then showed that limited stresses to the fuzes could be easily contained, providing a wide margin for safety.

Outcome

The rigorous series of tests on surrogate fuzes, supported by quality data and engineering design calculations, validated an acceptable alternative treatment process and proved that structural modifications would not be required to mitigate this previously unrecognized hazard. Battelle’s data allowed construction to proceed without delays.

Leveraging depth of scientific and engineering talent, Battelle developed a test approach that allowed the client to submit quality data to government agencies in a very short time frame and under budget. Additionally, construction of the BGCAPP facility proceeded without plant re-design or loss of schedule, saving the Army an excess of $8 million.