Copyright 2006 Associated Press All Rights
Reserved Associated Press Worldstream
September 8, 2006 Friday 7:35 PM GMT
SECTION: INTERNATIONAL NEWS
LENGTH: 846 words
HEADLINE:Russia opens third chemical weapons destruction
BYLINE: By JUDITH INGRAM, Associated Press
DATELINE: MARADYKOVSKY Russia
Engineers covered in head-to-toe protective gear on Friday inserted
neutralizing chemicals into bombs filled with a deadly nerve agent, officially
starting the work of Russia's third chemical weapons
The plant opening accelerates
Russia's campaign to eliminate the world's largest arsenal of the
The plant, 725 kilometers (450 miles) northeast
of Moscow, holds 6,900 tons of nerve agents stored in aerial bombs and missile
warheads more than 17 percent of Russia's stockpile.
Dignitaries, townspeople and journalists gathered for the formal
opening ceremony at a makeshift stage outside the plant, which is ringed by
three barbed-wire fences. Several kilometers (miles) away, a sign proclaims the
road to the plant a closed zone.
demonstrates Russia's efforts to strictly fulfill its international
commitments and shows that Russia has the political will to see through
to the end the process of chemical disarmament," said Viktor Kholstov, the
deputy head of the Federal Industry Agency, which is in charge of the effort.
The destruction facility, on the site of one of
Russia's seven former chemical weapons production
plants, will become a focal point of the push to meet an April 2007 target set
by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons
for Russia to destroy 20 percent of its stockpile. To date, Russia
has eliminated just 3 percent, as opposed to 39 percent destroyed by the United
States, home to the second-largest stockpile.
Russia's two other destruction facilities were constructed with
generous foreign funding. Construction of another plant that was to have been
the biggest Shchuchye, with chemical weapons stored in
millions of artillery shells has bogged down in disputes between Russia
and the United States, the main funder.
The delays at
that plant have pushed Maradykovsky onto the front line. It is the sole site to
be funded 100 percent by Russia.
"The Russians a
couple of years ago made a critical decision that if they were to have any
chance of meeting Chemical Weapons Convention deadlines, they
had to go to the easier, bulk agent sites," said Paul Walker, a weapons expert
at Global Green USA, the Washington-based affiliate of former Soviet President
Mikhail Gorbachev's Green Cross International environmental organization.
"I think also from a reason of national pride, they really
wanted to do one site themselves and have it be successful."
Friday's ceremony had a strong dose of patriotism, opening and closing
with an army band playing the national anthem. President Vladimir Putin's envoy
to the Volga River region, Alexander Konovalev, said the plant "is a
demonstration of the growing economic might of the Russian government."
Disarmament officials did give credit to Switzerland,
which recently announced it is spending some 55 million rubles (US$2 million;
euro1.6 million) on an electricity grid for the plant the first in Russia
to be destroying nerve agents as opposed to blister agents.
The bombs at Maradykovsky hold VX, soman, and sarin, as well as a less
deadly mixture of lewisite and mustard gas. Technicians will open each bomb,
drain out some agent if necessary, insert a neutralizing reagent, close up the
bomb and let it sit for 80-110 days to let the chemical processes take place,
said Gennady Bezrukov, chief engineer of the Federal Chemical
Weapons Storage and Destruction Administration.
When it is running at full strength, the plant will be able to
neutralize 96 weapons a day, he said.
representative Tamara Ashikmina said she was satisfied that authorities were
providing sufficient safety for the population and the environment. But the
local population still has concerns, she said.
course the population is anxious, because guests come and go but they have to
live here," said Ashikmina, head of the chemistry department at the Vyatka State
University in nearby Kirov.
The closest town to
Maradykovsky Mirny, with 3,500 people and the surrounding region of 50,000 have
been promised a new apartment house, central heating system, electricity and
sewage system an investment that by Russian law should be equivalent to 10
percent of the sum to be spent on the weapons destruction process itself.
New apartment houses have been built for plant medics and
other workers in nearby Orichi, and the town has a new school allowing the
existing one to stop teaching children in two shifts a day.
The state has also funded an ecological monitoring laboratory, headed
by Ashikmina in Kirov, that carries out daily checks of air, water, flora and
fauna in an area of more than 800 square kilometers (310 square miles)
surrounding the site.
Russia signed the Chemical Weapons Convention in 1997, the year it was created,
pledging to eliminate its arsenal within 10 years. However, it won international
agreement to prolong the deadline until 2012 because of a lack of funds.
Walker said that neither Russia nor the U.S. was
anywhere near on track to meet that extended deadline. The U.S. is expected to
complete destruction of its chemical weapons by 2020, he