The Big Clean-Up

Disposing a chemical weapons stockpile is a daunting task because many varieties are hard to trace and can be hidden in plain sight. Also, the process may take decades to complete, with the cost running into billions of dollars. The recent clean-up in Syria — touted to be the largest ever — has thrown open a discussion on the most prudent way to go about it

THE TEAM IN SYRIA

Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the team currently dismantling Syria's arsenal, has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize this year

* An inter-governmental body based in The Hague, Netherlands, it oversees that all signatories to the Chemical Weapons Convention comply with the rules

* The chemical weapons can be destroyed in situ using mobile units, or moved to another location for large-scale processing

WHAT ARE CHEMICAL WEAPONS

* Toxic chemicals delivered by an explosion, such as a bomb, artillery shell, or missile

* Can injure and kill people

* Reactions include choking, nerve damage, blood poisoning and blistering

* The first chemical weapons, used in World War I, were gases released from canisters

* They aren't gases now; they're liquid aerosol, with droplets carried through air

METHODS OF DISPOSAL/DESTRUCTION

1917 to 1960s: Commonly accepted disposal methods were open-pit burning, land burial and ocean dumping

1970s onwards: More sophisticated and environmentally sound disposal methods — high-temperature incineration and chemical neutralisation

Incineration

Uses a tremendous amount of heat to turn toxic chemical into mostly ash, water vapour, carbon dioxide

Neutralisation

Breaks the chemical agent down using water and a caustic compound, such as sodium hyrdoxide. Large quantity of liquid waste generated must be processed further

WHAT HAPPENS TO METAL SHELLS?

* Have to be thermally decontaminated, as enough heat can't be produced to vapourise the metal

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