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Environment

Chemical weapons disposal plan: Behind schedule, over cost

April 12, 2004 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 82, ISSUE 15

The mantra continues: The Army's program to destroy the U.S. arsenal of chemical weapons is falling behind schedule and steadily increasing in cost. That was the testimony of Raymond J. Decker, the General Accounting Office director of defense capabilities and management, before a subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee. He noted the closure of the Johnston Atoll destruction facility in the Pacific Ocean. But, he said, no new disposal sites have been opened--although two were scheduled to start destroying weapons in March--and "very little agent has been destroyed" in the past six months. As of March, the Army had destroyed nearly 28% of its 31,500-ton stockpile. The chemical weapons treaty calls for the destruction of 45% of the stockpile this month, but the U.S. has received an extension to December 2007. If schedule delays persist, the U.S. is unlikely to meet even the 2007 deadline. Under the treaty, all stocks were to be disposed of by 2007. The U.S. has said it would ask for the treaty-allowable five-year extension--to 2012--for disposing 100% of its stockpile, but Decker said the U.S. is in jeopardy of missing this deadline as well. If the operational problems, environmental permitting issues, emergency preparedness concerns, and unfunded requirements persist, Decker said, "GAO continues to believe that program costs will rise substantially higher than the October 2003 estimate of more than $25 billion."

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