Major US-supported chemical weapons destruction facility opens in Russia

Global Green USA welcomed the opening Thursday by the Russian Federation of its new chemical weapons (CW) destruction facility in the Kurgan Oblast, just north of Kazakhstan and just east of the Ural Mountain Range. Located near the Trans-Ural village of Shchuch’ye (pronounced “shoo-che”), the chemical weapons stockpile which will be neutralized and destroyed over the next several years is one of seven CW stockpiles declared by Russia under auspices of the international Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). The Shchuch’ye construction project has been the largest in the history of the US Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR or “Nunn-Lugar”) Program and US funding represents approximately 50% of total project costs.

Dr. Paul F. Walker, Director of Global Green USA’s Security and Sustainability Program, commented: “The initial opening of the Shchuch’ye facility in Russia to eliminate some 5,400 tons of deadly nerve agents is a major milestone in Russia’s program to safely destroy its 40,000 tons of chemical weapons. It will be extremely important that the US remain involved in oversight and technical support for this major threat reduction and nonproliferation effort in order to make sure it moves forward safely, securely, and efficiently. We have to be 100% certain that no accidents or incidents happen to derail this expensive and dangerous process, and we do not want these man-portable weapons to wind up in the wrong hands.”
The Shchuch’ye stockpile holds almost two million artillery shells and some 1,000 missile warheads, all loaded with nerve agents. Just one of these shells, appropriately detonated in a populated area, could kill thousands of people in a matter of minutes. The facility is the fifth one which Russia, with the help of the G-8 Global Partnership, has opened to date; destruction facilities are currently operating at three other sites, and construction is ongoing at the final two sites. Russia has neutralized approximately 12,000 tons of chemical agents – about 30% – of its stockpile since 2002, and has three more years to meet the legally binding CWC deadline of 2012 to fully abolish its arsenal.
The United States, under auspices of the CTR Program, agreed over a decade ago to build this facility for Russia. Under the Bush Administration, the US capped its pledge at $1.039 billion for Russian chemical weapons demilitarization efforts which have also included construction of a Central Analytical Laboratory in Moscow, provision of several mobile laboratories, and support for dismantlement of former CW production facilities.
Walker pointed out that March 5th will represent “the initial opening and testing with actual nerve agent of one of two Main Destruction Buildings or MDBs at Shchuch’ye built over the past 5-6 years with international support from Russia, the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Italy, Switzerland, and other members of the G-8 Global Partnership. It will take a year or more for Russia to open the second MDB and ramp up to full destruction capacity of 1,600 tons or more annually. I first visited this stockpile site in 1994 as part of an official US on-site inspection team, so it is very gratifying to see it finally begin to operate.”
Global Green USA noted that the Bush Administration has unfortunately eliminated funding for chemical weapons destruction in Russia in the last two military budgets for fiscal years 2008 and 2009. The new Obama Administration must make sure that additional funding is forthcoming in the fiscal year 2010 CTR budget to retain the US integrating contractor on-site and the local information and outreach program. Walker also noted that “it would be important for the US to help as well with destruction of the last Russian CW stockpile at Kizner in the Udmurt Republic; the Kizner stockpile is very similar to Shchuch’ye with over two million nerve-agent-filled artillery shells potentially subject to theft and diversion, and US experience at Shchuch’ye would be very helpful to facilitating the Russian destruction program.”
Of the 186 countries which have signed and ratified the international Chemical Weapons Convention, six have declared CW stockpiles totaling 71,316 metric tons. Russia has declared about 40,000 metric tons, while the US declared about 28,600 metric tons (31,500 US tons). The four remaining possessor states – Albania, India, Libya, and South Korea – make up the remaining 2,700 tons. Albania and South Korea finished their destruction programs in 2007 and 2008 respectively, and India will finish in 2009. Libya has declared it will complete its program in 2010. Russia continues to aim at April 2012 which is the final deadline under the CWC. Former US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld announced in 2006 that the US may not finish until 2023 or later, and Congress has set 2017 as its final deadline for full elimination of the US CW stockpile.
The Security and Sustainability Program, (known internationally as the “Legacy of the Cold War Program”), is managed from the Washington DC office and is an international partnership with Green Cross Switzerland and Green Cross Russia to facilitate the safe and timely elimination of weapons stockpiles and related systems globally and to promote international nonproliferation efforts. The Security and Sustainability Program has managed a dozen local outreach and information offices at formerly secret weapons stockpiles in Russia for over a decade now.

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