VX: Deadly to the last drop

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By The Staff

The last drops of 1,269 tons of a deadly nerve agent were destroyed at the Newport Chemical Agent Disposal Facility Aug. 8. This is a signal achievement for the workers at Newport, the community and our national security.

Plans for destroying VX gas (which contracts of all the muscles in the body, including the diaphragm, causing death by asphyxiation) at Newport began more than 20 years ago. Throughout the years, I supported the Army funds for research and development of the best and safest way to get rid of the VX.

I also pushed for public hearings and encouraged an open public participation process. The research and debate resulted in a neutralization method which has now been completed.

The destruction process was accelerated a decade ago by the Chemical Weapons Convention, which required countries to eliminate their chemical weapons and materials by 2012. A 1997 Senate debate on the treaty was protracted and contentious, but we finally succeeded in passing the treaty by a vote of 74-26.

The CWC required other nations to follow our lead in destroying these nefarious weapons.

The biggest stockpile was in Russia, which declared more than 40,000 metric tons of chemical weapons. As the Soviet Union disintegrated, so did security of facilities where chemical agents were stored - ready for combat - in munitions. In a photo that has appeared around the world, I am shown in one of these storage barns putting a shell in a briefcase to demonstrate how easy it would be to steal.

That one 80-millimeter shell had the potential of killing 80,000 people gathered in a stadium. It was essential that the United States not trust to luck that these chemicals would be safely guarded and then systemically destroyed.

Later this year, the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program will complete a program at the Shchuchye destruction facility in Russia that will destroy 2 million shells filled with deadly chemical agent.

Last year, I visited Albania to celebrate the Nunn-Lugar program's destruction of that nation's entire stock of chemical weapons.

At the ground-breaking ceremony for the Newport Chemical Agent Disposal Facility in 2000, I noted that, "Chemical weapons are known as the poor man's nuclear bomb because in some cases they can be manufactured from items available in the commercial market. They are easier to acquire and build than other weapons of mass destruction."

"With the end of the Cold War the natural barriers that were in place to prevent the spread of this weaponry disappeared. In some cases this technology has gone on sale to the highest bidder. This has increased the likelihood that American troops may encounter these weapons on the battlefield. Similarly these factors have made chemical weapons popular with terrorist organizations."

Newport is the third U.S. facility to complete its chemical weapons destruction, and six are remaining. The quicker the U.S. and other nations destroy chemical weapons and materials, the safer the world will be.

Lugar represents Indiana in the U.S. Senate.