Leaking chemical weapons pose a significant hazard over the next decade, and the Army must develop an emergency plan for disposing of rockets with chemical warheads, a congressional report says.
"The Army's assessment that the chemical weapons stockpile can be safely stored until 2004 is subject to question," the General Accounting Office concluded in a report made available Monday.
Of particular concern is the M55 rocket. Because of the weapon's design, the chemical agent cannot be separated from the explosive components.
Chemical weapons, particularly the nerve agent known as GB, become acidic over time and can corrode the metal warheads of rockets, mortars and projectiles. External leaks, although potentially dangerous, can be managed by placing the weapon inside a sealed container. Internal leaks are harder to detect and more dangerous.
"When a munition leaks internally, an agent can come in contact with its explosive components," the GAO noted. "Such contact, according to Army reports, could increase the risk of unanticipated ignitions or explosions during handling, movement and disassembling prior to final destruction."
In addition, the explosion of one rocket could set off a calamitous chain reaction that could involve many of the 4,000 rockets typically stored together.
An Army spokesman did not return a call Monday seeking comment. According to the report, the Army "generally agreed" with the GAO's findings.
But it is apparently sticking to its assertion that chemical weapons can be safely stored until 2004.