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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Sole Chemical Weapons Destruction Plant Closed

The Natural Resources Ministry said Monday that it has ordered a halt to operations at Russia's only chemical weapons destruction facility, saying the plant that opened in December lacks a license and citing concerns about its control over emissions.

The ministry issued an instruction ordering the Gorny plant, a former chemical weapons construction site, to stop working until it reverses violations it said were found during an inspection late last month.

The inspection revealed "a series of violations of environmental legislation," Denis Kiselyov, the head of ministry's department of state control in the sphere of nature management and environmental protection, said in comments broadcast on Rossia television.

Kiselyov said the violations included the absence of the proper license for work with chemical waste, loose control over emissions of waste into the atmosphere and violations of rules for storage of liquid waste obtained after processing the mustard-gas-like yperite.

The surprising order is a blow to Russia's slow-moving efforts to destroy its chemical weapons, a process that is being closely watched -- and significantly aided -- by the United States and other countries with proliferation concerns.

Itar-Tass said the Gorny plant was built with the help of 17 countries that are signatories of the Chemical Weapons Convention, which Russia signed in 1997.

Russia initially pledged to destroy its stockpile by 2007, but it has requested a five-year extension.

Sergei Kiriyenko, chairman of the State Commission on Chemical Disarmament, said last month that 100 metric tons of mustard gas had been destroyed at Gorny since it opened in December.

Two more facilities are planned in the coming years to aid in the destruction of Russia's chemical weapons arsenal, which at nearly 40,000 tons is the largest in the world.

In June, Russia's partners in the Group of Eight pledged up to $20 billion over 10 years to help dispose of its weapons of mass destruction arsenals. However, the U.S. Congress has suspended some of its promised funding amid concerns about Moscow's commitment.

Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said last month that the disposal of Russia's Soviet-era chemical weapons remains a priority for Moscow, but that extensive international support is needed to speed up the giant task.

Bureaucratic requirements for factories and businesses are often byzantine in Russia, but it was unclear how a key facility operating with government approval lacks the proper license.