U.S. Army Begins Removal of Chemical Weapons from West Germany
CLAUSEN, West Germany (AP) _ A convoy of trucks today began removing a vast cache of deadly nerve gas that was secretly stored by the United States just outside this small West German town.
The convoy took away the first batch of 100,000 gas-filled artillery shells stored at a U.S. military site at Clausen, which is near Kaiserslautern in the southwest part of the country.
The lethal cargo, destined for destruction on a Pacific atoll, is being removed under a 1986 U.S.-West German agreement at a cost of $83.1 million.
Hundreds of crack paramilitary West German police troops lined the convoy route and stood guard on overpasses as the the long line of 80 trucks began shuttling the shells at about 8 a.m.
Vans carrying police with riot gear accompanied the convoy.
West German authorities said someone phoned in a bomb threat against the convoy but that the first shipment proceeded without incident.
The first trucks arrived at Miesau, about 30 miles away, 2 1/2 hours later. At Miesau, the containers are to be loaded onto special trains that will take them to Nordenham, on the North Sea, where they will be placed aboard U.S. Navy ships for transport to Johnston Atoll.
The weapons will be destroyed in a specially built incinerator on the U.S. atoll about 800 miles southwest of Hawaii.
Only about 20 of the 80 trucks that left Clausen actually carried the chemical weapons sealed in air-tight containers, said U.S. Army spokesman Jim Boyle. He said the rest contained decontamination crews, firefighters, West German and U.S. soldiers, police, monitoring teams and medical staff.
″The chemical team is equipped to contain any incident,″ he said. ″The operation is going as planned.″
Only four protesters were spotted. They draped posters, including one that said ″Evil is simply being shifted from here to the Pacific,″ over a stone wall next a church along the convoy route in Clausen.
They said they were protesting the U.S. decision to destroy the weapons on the atoll and said it would jeopardize the populace there.
″This solution is the worst of all worlds,″ said protester Ursula Siegmayer. She said she had participated in earlier chemical weapons protests, ″But we’re not proud of our success. This is a catastrophe.″
The West German government is paying $31.2 million of the removal costs; the U.S. cost is $52 million.
Environmental groups, which for years had campaigned for the removal of the chemical weapons, had sought to block the transport, charging that the safety measures were inadequate.
The environmental Greens party, one of the strongest opponents of chemical weapons, went to court to try to block the removal. But an administrative court in Cologne ruled Friday there was no evidence to prove the Greens’ contention that faulty data had been used to calculate the risk of transportation.
Several groups of private citizens concerned about the safety of the transport had also unsuccessfully tried to block the operation through court action.
″The shells are safe to handle and transport due to their construction and condition. The munitions, without fuses, are double packed in vapor-proof secondary steel containers and military vans for transport,″ the U.S. Army said in a statement announcing the beginning of the operation.
The approximately 100,000 artillery shells - in 6-inch and 8-inch sizes - are loaded with liquid nerve agents, according to Boyle.
They were brought to Clausen between 1958 and 1968, where they have remained since.
Clausen is the only site in West Germnay where chemical weapons are stored.
Boyle said the Army has done everything to make sure the operation goes ahead without a hitch.
″There is safety measure upon safety measure redundant throughout the operation,″ he said.
One convoy will take the weapons daily from Clausen to Miesau over the next 30 days.
The rail transport to the North Sea port will take about a week and will be conducted at night.
West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and former President Ronald Reagan agreed in 1986 to remove the chemical weapons by 1992. The timetable was advanced by President Bush.
It was only in March that authorities acknowledged that the chemical weapons were stored in Clausen.