Activists allege spill at chemical weapons reprocessing site
MOSCOW – An environmental activist alleged Thursday that highly toxic chemicals had accidentally spilled from weapons being reprocessed at a central Russian plant.Russian officials, however, denied there was a spill at the Maradykovsky complex.Lev Fyodorov, the head of the Union for Chemical Safety in Moscow, said several aviation bomb casings had ruptured last week during reprocessing and that toxic liquid had spilled onto the ground.But he said that the chances of environmental damage from the alleged accident were slim, since it occurred inside the reprocessing complex, 450 miles northeast of Moscow.”I think it’s an accident. They (Russian officials) don’t think so,” Fyodorov told The Associated Press, adding that the alleged spill was a sign that the reprocessing method Russia chose “is convenient only for making a quick accounting” before other signatories to the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention.The Maradykovsky reprocessing plant opened to great fanfare in September on the site of one of Russia’s seven former chemical weapons production plants.The plant is 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 of its stockpile, compared to 39 percent destroyed by the United States, home to the world’s second-largest stockpile.News of the spill first broke Wednesday when Tatyana Korolyovaya, an environmental activist in a town close to the Maradykovsky complex, made the allegations on Radio Liberty.The Maradykovsky plant holds 6,900 tons of nerve agents stored in aerial bombs and missile warheads, more than 17 percent of Russia’s chemical weapons stockpile.Mikhail Manin, the official in the Volga region responsible for weapons-related issues, said in a statement that he had been in touch Lt. Gen. Valery Kapashin, a top chemical weapons destruction official who was at the plant this week, and other officials who said there were no spill.The bombs stored at Maradykovsky hold VX, soman, sarin, and a less deadly mixture of lewisite and mustard gas. Technicians are to 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, Gennady Bezrukov, a chemical weapons destruction program official, said at the plant opening in September.When it is running at full strength, the plant will be able to neutralize 96 weapons a day, he said.Fyodorov said officials had chosen an unreliable reprocessing technique, since it involves filling the bombs and warheads with water to start the process. That does not leave adequate room for the liquids inside to expand if the temperature rises, he said.”When you have 22,000 weapons filled with water lying around, there is the probability that one or the other will explode, and it’s a high probability,” he said.