Dec. 6, 2018
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Most Alternative Technologies to Open Burning and Open Detonation of Conventional Waste Munitions Are Mature, Says New Report
WASHINGTON – Most of the alternative technologies to open burning and open detonation (OB/OD) of conventional munitions designated for disposal are mature, including contained burn and contained detonation chambers with pollution control equipment, and many are permitted to replace OB/OD of waste munitions, says a new report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.
However, without a clear directive and sufficient and stable funding from Congress, it will be impossible for the U.S. Army to implement a full-scale deployment of alternative technologies to replace OB/OD. To help address this, the DOD should analyze the overall cost of both the current practice as well as the alternatives to determine the funding necessary to increase the use of alternatives over time.
This report is a result of an 18-month study that examined the conventional munitions demilitarization program at the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD), as mandated in the Fiscal 2017 National Defense Authorization Act.
OB/OD operations destroy excess, obsolete, or unserviceable munitions, such as projectiles, bombs, rockets, landmines, and missiles by either detonating them or burning them in the open. This has been a common disposal practice for decades. While there have been some safety incidents, the practices are considered generally safe for workers, according to the U.S. Army, and the committee finds that the Army safety program appears to be effective. The downside of these operations is the process effluents that are released into the environment, containing some hazardous constituents, which are a significant concern for public interest groups.
“Because the U.S. military has a huge inventory of conventional munitions set for demilitarization, nearly 400,000 tons, the cost of alternative technologies and the successful disposal of these munitions through these alternatives are very important considerations for DOD and the Army,” said Todd Kimmell, a principal investigator at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory and chair of the committee that conducted the study. “Complicating any push to fund replacement of open burning and open detonation with alternative technologies is the fact that EPA and the states maintain that permitted operations are safe for human health and the environment."
The report assesses the pros and cons of OB/OD and alternative technologies. Implementing alternative technologies for munitions treatment would result in reduced emissions compared with OB/OD, but it would also be associated with increased capital and operating costs, although with lower closure costs. In addition, alternative technologies that treat the same types of munitions as those treated by OB/OD will have varying throughputs, depending on the capabilities of the technologies, munitions being treated, and other factors including permit restrictions.
As part of the study, the committee focused on the DOD conventional munitions stockpiles being demilitarized at seven depots – Anniston Munitions Center; Blue Grass Army Depot; Crane Army Ammunition Activity; Hawthorne Army Depot; Letterkenny Munitions Center; McAlester Army Ammunition Plant; and Tooele Army Depot. However, the committee noted that the findings and recommendations of this report will have implications for and applicability to open burning and open detonation conducted at other locations.
Key findings of the report include:
- There are no significant technical, safety, or regulatory barriers to deploying alternative technologies for disposal of the vast majority of the conventional waste munitions, and the Army has made progress in implementing some of them.
- Each alternative technology that the study assessed as a potential replacement to the current practice would have lower emissions and less of an environmental and public health impact and would therefore likely be more acceptable to the public.
- Although the Office of the Product Director for Demilitarization at DOD has a strategic plan for increasing the use of alternative technologies and transitioning away from OB/OD, it lacks a detailed implementation plan. Both the DOD and Army have placed relatively low priority on funding the demilitarization program, including the implementation of additional alternative technologies, as reflected in past budgets.
The committee recommended DOD develop a detailed implementation plan for transitioning from OB/OD to alternative technologies, with appropriate performance metrics, and institutionalize it through the demilitarization program.
Representatives of public interest groups say that before selecting a technology to be implemented at a specific site, community preferences and the conditions of the site should be considered. The committee recommended that the Army identify issues that could affect the permit process for alternative technologies, including public concerns, and work with state regulators to minimize the chance of issues becoming problematic, thereby reducing the risk of permit delays.
The report notes some munitions may be unstable and possibly shock-sensitive due to decreasing stability in the explosives or propellants as they age. This makes them unsuitable for disposal using alternative technologies because transportation and handling must be minimized to reduce exposure of workers to the explosive hazards posed by these munitions. For this reason, the committee concluded that the capability for OB/OD would continue to be needed to dispose of certain munitions.
The study was sponsored by U.S. Army.