Pueblo, Co. citizens decry new weapons neutralization tactic

Citizens of Pueblo, Colorado, have given a cool reception to the government's plan to blow up 16 percent of its chemical weapons stockpile there.

The Pueblo Chemical Depot and the Blue Grass Army Depot would destroy 125,000 mustard gas containing artillery shells as part of the program. This would be three years before a planned water neutralization plant is expected to open. The Pueblo depot currently contains 780,000 of the shells.

The request to destroy the shells ahead of schedule came from the National Security Council, which has expressed concerns over the United States' delay in efforts to meet terms of an international treaty that calls for the destruction of chemical weapons.

The treaty calls for the U.S. to destroy all of its chemical armaments by 2012, a date former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld admitted the U.S. would not meet several years ago. The Army's Chemical Materials Agency will complete its incineration program in 2012, however, which would leave a three year gap before the Pueblo plant comes online. The administration fears that time span would give the appearance that U.S. efforts at disarmament have stalled.

The so-called "Bridging the Gap" program would keep that from happening by using an explosive combustion or chemical neutralization technology, which are currently used to clear battlefields and military bases.

Community members, however, question how this method differs from the incineration method that it successfully blocked over a decade ago and worrying that if the plan was successful that it could just become a form of back door incineration.

Questions were also raised as to where the additional funds would come from, such as taking them from existing programs, but a representative for the Pueblo depot said that extra money would be appropriated.