Army inspectors say it's a classic case of overkill trying to make the public feel more safe - even though it may actually increase danger and waste $120 million.
That overkill comes from expensive containers being developed to carry aging chemical arms at eight bases nationwide - including Utah's Tooele Army Depot - to destruction at plants now planned or under construction at those bases.The containers in some ways are even more elaborate than those used to transport nuclear warheads, and are designed so they could safely carry chemical arms thousands of miles across the nation.
The trouble is that the chemical arms are to be moved no more than three miles - along deserted roads by slow-moving trucks, no less - before destruction at bases where they already sit. So inspectors say the extra, expensive protection is unnecessary.
An Army Audit Agency investigation report, obtained by the Deseret News through a Freedom of Information Act request, says those are only a few of the problems with the container project - which the Army has temporarily halted to re-evaluate.
Why were those containers pursued? "The decision to develop and use (new) onsite containers was an attempt to appease intense public opposition to the demilitarization program at some locations." And the report adds, "Despite the decision . . . opposition to the program continued."
In other words, the Army planned to spend $120 million for already failed public relations. Other problems with the containers, according to the report, include those listed on the graphic on Page B1, as well as the following:
- The Army did not follow recommendations from a panel of transportation experts that said much less-elaborate and inexpensive forms of protection were sufficient to safely move chemical arms around the bases.
- The Army first decided to design the elaborate containers when it considered possibly transporting all chemical arms nationwide to Tooele for destruction. But the Army later decided instead to build destruction plants at each base storing chemical arms. But it never canceled plans for the more elaborate containers that would have been needed for cross country moves.
"The Army will use the (new) onsite container primarily to move the toxic chemical stockpile less than one mile on slow-moving trucks. On the other hand, the Army will use the European container to move the chemical munitions 16,000 miles to Johnston Island," the report said.
Upon recommendation by the Army Audit Agency, the Pentagon approved temporarily halting the new container program to re-evaluate its need. The program manager for chemical demilitarization at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., is scheduled to decide by April whether to continue it or seek an alternative.
Still, the Army has decided to go ahead and finish the $6 million design of the containers, and to proceed and order the containers that it would need at Tooele. That order could be canceled without financial penalty any time before May.
The south area of Tooele Army Depot near Rush Valley contains about 42 percent of the nation's chemical arms. Because so many arms are stored there, its plant will be larger than others and built first to allow destruction of its stockpile by the end of the decade as ordered by Congress.
The report questioned why the Army ever decided to pursue the new containers - which are designed to withstand a drop from 10 feet, withstand punctures caused from a drop of 10 feet onto a spike 6 inches in diameter, withstand crushing under weight of up to 50,000 pounds and withstand igniting in flames for 15 minutes in an external fire of 1,850 degrees.
It noted that most arms are already stored in containers that allow what is considered safe transport.
"The Army has moved large quantities of chemical agent and munitions safely many times over the past 40 years. One study . . . (noted) the moves were so common that they were no longer considered special. In fact, the Army has made these moves without a single recorded fatality from agent," the report said.
It added that a panel of transportation experts said that most munitions were already safe for transport around base, and the few that needed extra protection required much less-expensive and elaborate canisters than those proposed.
The report also said that containers used for nuclear warheads are less expensive than the new proposed ones, and could provide protection that is just as good.
Also, the report noted that Tooele had proposed to use modified ammunition vans to transport the arms more economically. Superiors at Aberdeen Proving Ground objected, but the U.S. Army Materiel Command Field Safety Activity later ruled such transport would be as safe as the much more expensive containers.
The report said, "The Field Safety Activity also stated that, although using the (new) onsite container would be safe, its use was somewhat of an overkill for moving the stockpile on an installation."
Other bases nationwide that are scheduled to also destroy aging chemical arms they store are: Aberdeen; Anniston Army Depot, Ala.; Lexington-Blue Grass Army Depot, Ky.; Newport Army Ammunition Plant, Ind.; Pine Bluff Arsenal, Ark.; Pueblo Army Depot Activity, Colo.; and Umatilla Army Depot Activity, Ore.
Chemical arms container
Problems with the container
-The 26,000-pound containers are too heavy for some small military base roads they will use, requiring $10.1 million in street upgrades.
-The containers would need $17.1 million worth of special trailers, tractors and forklifts.
-The containers may actually increase danger instead of improving safety. Army inspectors say that Tooele Army Depot personnel correctly complained that loading and unloading containers requires more steps than other means of transport.
-Other less-expensive alternativesa ere not considered - including canisters that are one-tenth as expensive, which the Army is using to transport chemical arms from Europe for destruction at Johnston Atoll in the Pacific.