Jul 7, 2023
The last of the chemical weapons at the Pueblo Chemical Depot in Colorado is scheduled to be disarmed as early as Friday. When it is, the US — and the world — will be rid of the final remaining declared stockpile of these deadly weapons. The cleanup took decades to complete.
After World War II, the US raced to build weapons of mass destruction. They had hoped to outpace the Soviet Union in the so-called “Cold War.” The military made a vast and terrifying arsenal. It included mines filled with nerve gas, bombs that spread toxins in the air, and containers full of poison to be rained down.
For many years, these weapons were kept in army depots, ready to be used. But in 1997, the US and 164 other countries signed the Chemical Weapons Convention. They promised to get rid of all their chemical weapons. Getting rid of these weapons is harder than using them, though.
The Defense Department thought the cleanup would cost $1.4 billion. Many years later, the cost is almost $42 billion. To safely dispose of one shell filled with mustard gas, a robot has to puncture, drain, and clean the shell. Then, it has to heat it up to 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit. Other weapons need equally complicated steps to make them safe. Even though it took a long time, many people think it was worth it.
“It’s been an ordeal, that’s for sure — I wondered if I would ever see the day,” Craig Williams told The New York Times. He is the winner of the Goldman Environmental Prize for his work combating chemical weapons. “This is the first time, globally, that an entire class of weapons of mass destruction will be destroyed.”
Photo by PEO ACWA courtesy of Wikimedia commons.
Reflect: Do you think the world will change now that all declared stockpiles of chemical weapons have been destroyed? Explain.
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