NBC Weapons: Neutralizing The Syrian Chemical Threat

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NUCLEAR, BIOLOGICAL AND CHEMICAL WEAPONS

 

August 20, 2014: Using a special American “chemical weapons neutralization” ship plus similar facilities on land in Finland, Britain and the United States, 75 percent of the Syrian chemical weapons stockpile has been destroyed so far. By the end of the year all these weapons should be neutralized (reduced to harmless, or much less harmful chemical components).

In early 2013 Syria agreed to identify what chemical weapons it had and where they all were, as well as allow the UN to destroy these weapons. The problem was actually carrying out the deed. Destroying the chemical weapons inside Syria was not possible because of the ongoing civil war. So arrangements were made to destroy the dangerous chemicals outside Syria. All the other stockpiled (and much less lethal components) for more Syrian chemical weapons were destroyed by the end of 2013. The nasty business of destroying the most dangerous chemicals (the weapons themselves, like nerve gas) is being be done aboard an American military transport that had two chemical weapons destruction systems installed.

The UN organized armed convoys to get the chemicals from some twenty storage sites inside Syria to a port on the Syrian coast. There a joint Danish-Norwegian task force of transports and warships took the chemicals and delivered them either to land based facilities or the American transport, which then went to some little travelled patch of the Mediterranean and destroyed the chemical weapons.

Meanwhile, some destruction has already taken place, at least to the special containers that the deadly chemicals are in while they are delivered to their targets. Chemical weapons are corrosive and unstable so they are kept in special containers until just before use, when they are poured into the bombs, shells and rocket warheads specially built to handle them. Once in these warheads the chemicals are more likely to eventually corrode the warhead and leak if just left there. So chemical weapons are rarely left in the warheads very long. Moreover many chemical weapons degrade over time and after a few months or years have to be destroyed and replaced with a fresh batch.

In December 2013 the UN verified that the special chemical plants that produce fresh Syrian chemical weapons had also been destroyed, along with all associated equipment. Of course Syria can rebuild these plants and produce fresh supplies of nerve gas and other noxious chemicals. New special shells, bombs and rocket warheads can also be manufactured or bought from Russia. But now the equipment Syria had already accumulated over decades is destroyed and the UN has taken the remaining chemical weapons still in their special storage containers and moved them out of the country for neutralization. The destruction process will take place far out at sea so that even if there is an accident the deadly chemicals will not reach any civilian populations. Or at least that is the plan, which seems to be working so far.

Despite the plan it is feared that not all Syrian chemical weapons have been surrendered. So far this year there have been several credible reports of chemical weapons being used. It’s unclear where these came from.

 


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