Last September, the team at Bechtel’s Pueblo Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant in Colorado began disassembling and destroying the first of 780,000 chemical weapons from the stockpile the U.S. Army produced in the 1950s.
The weapons contain mustard agent, a tar-like, poisonous liquid. The Pueblo facility, which Bechtel operates for the U.S. government, is key to the U.S. meeting its international treaty obligations to eliminate chemical weapons. Robots are used to disassemble the shells and mortars and neutralize the toxic chemicals with water, heat, lye, and bacteria.
Designing for Safety
Bechtel designed the plant to use a process that rinses the shells and deactivates the agent with hot water and high alkaline sodium hydroxide. The resulting mix, called hydrolysate, is sent through a bacteria digestion process like many industrial wastewater treatment plants. The water-based method was chosen in response to community concerns about the potential effect on air quality from incinerating the chemicals.
Working with the Community
The plant, located on an Army installation east of the town of Pueblo, employs 1,344 workers, about half of which are local. Since the project began in 2004, more than $1.3 billion has been paid in local wages.
The plant’s staff maintain an extremely close relationship with residents of the city and surrounding areas because of the sensitivity of its work. An advisory commission that includes nine private citizens appointed by the governor meets every month with government officials and Bechtel colleagues to exchange information about the plant.
Bechtel colleagues regularly volunteer on the Rocky Mountain Public Broadcasting System’s Homework Hotline program and other activities to promote science, technology, engineering, and math education among Pueblo children and teenagers. They also help maintain the Cheyenne Mountain State Park’s eight-mile Talon hiking trail, putting their engineering and construction expertise to work to eliminate trail erosion from rainstorms.
Managing Water Resources at The Pueblo Chemical Agent Destruction Plant Saves 75%
Reusing and Recycling
Pueblo typically gets 12-14 inches of rainfall a year, just slightly more than a desert. The only source of water for the facility is on-site wells. To preserve the scarce resource that is integral to the facility’s treatment process, the plant reuses 75 percent of its total water requirement.
By 2020, when the plant’s decontamination work is complete, Bechtel will have recycled more than 21,000 tons of steel—three times as much as the Eiffel Tower—443 tons of brass, and 12.5 tons of aluminum.
Recognition for Promoting Sustainable Practices
Three sites sweep all 12 U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration Sustainability Awards
The U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration has awarded three Bechtel-affiliated sites all 12 of the agency’s Sustainability Awards for 2016. The Y-12 National Security Complex, Los Alamos National Laboratory, and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory were recognized for helping the Department in meeting its goals through innovation and excellence in environmental sustainability.
Teams and individuals received the following awards:
- Y-12 National Security Complex, Tennessee, managed and operated by Consolidated Nuclear Security LLC: Best in Class Individual Change Agent; Best in Class Water Management; Best in Class Waste Reduction and Pollution Prevention; Best in Class Performance Based Contracts; Environmental Stewardship Greenhouse Gas Scope 1 and 2; Environmental Stewardship Waste Reduction and Pollution Prevention.
- Los Alamos National Laboratory, New Mexico, managed and operated by Los Alamos National Security LLC: Best in Class Green IT Stewardship; Environmental Stewardship Individual Change Agent; Environmental Stewardship Water Management; Environmental Stewardship DOE Sustainable Campus
- Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, California, managed and operated by Lawrence Livermore National Security LLC: Environmental Stewardship Sustainable