6th New Facility Will Destroy Chemical Weapons in Penza

A new facility will be opened Tuesday to continue destroying Russia's formidable arsenal of chemical weapons, the world's biggest, as part of its drive to eliminate all such weapons by 2012.

Located near Leonidovka in the central Penza region, it is the sixth of seven such facilities Russia plans to build.

Russia and the United States held more than 71,000 metric tons of deadly chemical agents in 1997, more than 90 percent of the world's chemical weapons stockpiles. Russia's arsenal alone stood at 40,000 tons. Under the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention, Moscow and Washington committed themselves to completely destroy all their stockpiles of chemical weapons by 2012.

The new Leonidovka facility holds 6,885 metric tons of VX, sarin and soman nerve agents, about 17 percent of Russia's declared chemical weapons stockpile.

"This is now the sixth chemical weapons destruction facility brought on line. Obviously, it will enhance Russia's destruction capacity to meet that [2012] deadline," said Michael Luhan, chief spokesman for the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

"At this point in time, the U.S. has now achieved 50 percent [chemical weapons] destruction," Luhan said by telephone from The Hague.

Russia has destroyed 10,500 tons of toxic agents, or about a quarter of its chemical weapons stockpile, and plans to raise the figure to 18,000 tons by the end of 2009, Valery Kapashin, head of Russia's federal directorate for safe storage and destruction of chemical weapons, told local media this month.

"During the fourth stage, all [Russian] chemical weapons stockpiles will be eliminated in 2012," he said.

Luhan said Russia had begun work on its seventh and last chemical weapons destruction facility "about 10 days ago." The facility, at Pochep in the Bryansk region, will dispose of some 7,500 tons of sarin, soman and VX.