Tag Archives: Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)

Libya’s Chemical Weapons

A Swedish Army soldier wearing a chemical agent protective suit) and protection mask .  image from wikipedia

Announcing a major milestone in the international operation to verifiably eliminate Libya’s remaining chemical weapons stocks, the Director-General of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), Ambassador Ahmet Üzümcü, confirmed that the chemicals have been successfully removed from Libya on 27 August 2016.

The operation — facilitated and coordinated by the OPCW — responds to Libya’s request for assistance in meeting its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention. The request was approved by the OPCW Executive Council and endorsed by the United Nations Security Council in July 2016. Removal of these chemicals is the first stage of an ongoing operation to verifiably eliminate the remnants of Libya’s now-defunct chemical weapon programme….

Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Malta, Spain, United Kingdom and the United States have so far responded to the call for assistance by contributing personnel, technical expertise, equipment, financial and other resources. Notably, Denmark has provided maritime assets to transport the chemicals

Excerpts from Libya’s Remaining Chemical Weapon Precursors Successfully Removed, Press Release of OPCW, Aug. 31,  2016

Cleaning Out the World: the destruction of chemical weapons

MV Cape Ray that destroyed Syria's chemical weapons. Image of 2014 from wikipedia

Chemical weapons are banned by treaties, though that hasn’t stopped a few countries from maintaining stockpiles. Right now it’s possible to clean up that mess, but it’s a tremendous amount of work, and expensive work too….[DARPA] has in the works the “Agnostic Compact Demilitarization of Chemical Agents” or ACDC. Their goal: a machine that turns chemical-weapon-tainted soil into fertile soil, that can fit roughly in a shipping container, and is a fraction of the cost to process the chemicals today…

After chemical weapons were used in the Syrian civil war, the Syrian government, under international supervision, revealed their stockpile and turned it over to an international team. That team, using the U.S. Navy’s Cape Ray ship, incinerated and neutralized tons of chemical agents over the better part of a year, while at sea. The cost was around $250 million.
[Southwest Research Institute]’s approach combines a commercially available reforming-engine technology that, along with local soil, can convert organic molecules to non-hazardous components. The engine is designed such that, as part of the destruction process, the organic molecules act as a fuel and efficiently generate recoverable energy that can be converted to electricity. The SwRI process is agnostic to the chemical to be degraded, and is a much greener process than either conventional hydrolysis or incineration, both of which are logistically intensive and require subsequent secondary treatment of large amounts of hazardous waste.
The project is only nine months along. Next year, the team is hopeful they’ll have a demonstration of the technology, and then, when the project’s 36 months are up, they are aiming for a chemical cleaning tool just 1 percent as expensive as the Cape Ray mission. The cost of ACDC, if all goes according to plan, is expected to be just $2.6 million.

Excerpt from Kelsey D. Atherton, DARPA WANTS TO TRANSFORM CHEMICAL WAR SITES INTO FERTILE SOIL, Popular Science, May 12, 2016

Tips and Tricks of Chemical Weapons Stockpilers: Syria

Wounded civilians arrive at hospital Aleppo, Syria, 2012. Image from wikipedia

On April 22, 2014 the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) declared that 86.5% of all chemicals and 88.7% of the most deadly “Priority 1” substances on a revised list, such as sulphur mustard and precursors for sarin, a nerve gas, had been boarded and removed from Syria. Since early April six consignments have been delivered to Latakia (Syria’s port) , a “significant acceleration”, according to the OPCW, after a long gap when very little had happened.

The next destination for the chemicals is a container terminal at Gioia Tauro in southern Italy, from where most of it will transfer to an American ship, the MV Cape Ray, which is equipped with two mobile hydrolysis units for neutralising the stuff. The Cape Ray, now in Spain, will then head for international waters with a ten-country security escort, and begin its work. Rear-Admiral Bob Burke, director of American naval operations in Europe and Africa, says that if the sea is fairly calm it should take about 60 days of round-the-clock processing to neutralise the chemical agents, making it just possible that the June 30th deadline for destroying all Syria’s chemical weapons will be met. Some worries linger, however.

The first is continuing disagreement between Syria and the OPCW over the destruction of production and storage sites. All the weapons-producing equipment inside has been smashed, but the Syrians are arguing only for “destruction by inactivation”, which means just locking some doors. But Michael Luhan of the OPCW says that while there is no definition for destruction of such structures in the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), in OPCW “common law” it has come to mean “taken down to the foundations”. A compromise may be possible, but there is a danger of setting a bad precedent.

Second, Dina Esfandiary of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London says that a mechanism for future “challenge” inspections, something OPCW has never previously done, will be needed if Syria is to be certified as entirely free of chemical weapons. It remains possible that the regime has hidden stocks, which on past form it might use—and then blame the rebels for. The status of one chemical-weapons site, in an area the regime claims is too dangerous for removal operations, remains “unresolved”, says Mr Luhan.

Reports earlier this month that helicopters dropped bombs filled with industrial chlorine gas on the rebel-held village of Kfar Zita, injuring and terrifying dozens of civilians, suggest that the regime has not changed its ways. The attack was reported as a rebel atrocity on Syrian TV before it had even happened, says Ms Esfandiary. The use of chlorine gas is hard to prove. It is not banned under the CWC and it does not linger, making the extraction of evidence from soil samples almost impossible. That is one reason why no signatory to the convention has asked the OPCW to investigate. However, if use with intent to maim or kill could be established, it would be a clear breach of the convention. A further requirement of the convention is that signatories give a full history of their chemical-weapons programme, accounting for the scientists who worked on it and other countries that may have assisted it (in Syria’s case, probably Russia and Egypt). But Ms Esfandiary doubts that, with the architect of the programme still in power, the regime would reveal anything that might incriminate it in the killing of more than 1,000 people by sarin gas in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta on April 21, 2013, a war crime for which it still denies all responsibility. Eliminating Syria’s

Chemical Weapons,  Getting There, Economist, Apr. 26, 2014, at 45.