Airbus Defence and Space

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Destroying old chemical munitions

In May 2011, the French Ministry of Defence selected Airbus Defence and Space as prime contractor for its Secoia programme for the design, construction and operation of a specialised plant for the destruction of chemical munitions from World War I.

The programme is part of France’s commitments under the international Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) which came into force on 29 April 1997. The CWC outlaws the development, production, stockpiling and use of chemical weapons, and sets out a framework for their destruction.

France’s inventory of chemical weapons dating from the First World War is around 250 tonnes, to which must be added the 10–20 tonnes which are unearthed every year.

Secoia will employ an automated system at the Mailly military base site in the Champagne region of France to destroy 42 tonnes of chemical munitions per year from 2016; maximum safety levels for people, the environment and property will be guaranteed.

The plant to be developed by Airbus Defence and Space – the only one of its kind in the world – will use specially adapted equipment, and all munitions handling operations will be completely remotely controlled. Pyrotechnical and chemical safety measures will also be implemented for the entire process, from the initial unloading of the munitions through to their final destruction and consequent removal of waste material.

As prime contractor, Airbus Defence and Space has opted for proven technology developed by reputed industrial specialists. One partner is KOBE STEEL, a company with recognised expertise in the destruction of chemical munitions by the method of detonation in a shielded chamber. The second major industrial partner is TREDI, a subsidiary of the French SECHE Environment group, which will be responsible for treating the residual industrial chemical waste in strict compliance with environmental regulations.

The process that will be implemented will thus ensure complete control of waste and processing via highly specialised systems. All environmental regulations will be rigorously adhered to and the site will be included in the European Union’s Natura 2000 nature conservation network. An innovative method for dealing with any gas products of the munitions disposal process will ensure that no gases will be released into the atmosphere.

The Secoia programme is scheduled to run for over 20 years, with two main phases: an initial period of a little more than four years during which the facility will be designed, built and commissioned, and the operational phase due to start in 2016 and planned to last more than 15 years.

In its role as industrial prime contractor, Airbus Defence and Space will provide comprehensive services throughout the programme, and will operate the site during the operational phase.