Can Syria Really Wipe Out Chemical Weapons in a Year?

After all, US has spent decades on the process
By Matt Cantor,  Newser User
Posted Sep 24, 2013 2:03 AM CDT
A Syrian child looks out, during heavy fighting between troops loyal to President Bashar Assad and opposition fighters in the village of Kafr Nabuda, Syria, Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013.   (AP Photo)

(Newser) – The US has spent decades ridding itself of a chemical weapons stash that dates back to 1917, using all sorts of methods to achieve disarmament—yet the plan for Syria calls for wiping out its chemical weapons by next year. What's more, Syria's got to take action amid a civil war, and "everybody forgets that none of these weapons were designed to be peacefully disassembled," says an Army rep. Can the plan be achieved without risking health and environmental disaster? Maybe, an environmental expert tells the New York Times: "The technologies exist."

"The weapons can be destroyed safely—not real quickly, and definitely not cheaply. But it can be done," the expert says. When the US began shedding the arsenal it developed for World War I, the first approach was burning and burial; there was sea disposal; then special incinerators. But safety and environmental concerns persisted. Ultimately, the army began neutralizing the stockpiles using other chemicals—a decades-long, costly method that requires hundreds of workers. But regardless of procedures, the plan for Syria is facing diplomatic hurdles: US-Russia talks "are not going so smoothly," says a Moscow official. Russia fears the plan may only have postponed US military action, Reuters reports. (Read more Syria stories.)

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