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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

End of Road For Deadly Stockpile

After years of delays and disputes, a vast facility to destroy chemical weapons will formally open Friday in Shchuchye, a west Siberian town of 11,000 people.

The plant was built with a U.S. contribution of more than $1 billion and is seen as a milestone in cooperation on disarmament between Washington and Moscow.

"It's a signal event in terms of arms control," said U.S. Senator Richard Lugar said in a telephone interview.

Lugar and former Senator Sam Nunn authored the Cooperative Threat Reduction program of 1992, under which the United States has poured money into eliminating much of the former Soviet Union's weapons of mass destruction and improving security for the stockpiles that remain.

Russia, as a signatory of the international Chemical Weapons Convention, is obliged to eliminate its vast stores of Class I weapons — chemicals that have no use other than in arms. Moscow already has destroyed about 30 percent of its stockpile, according to the Russian Munitions Agency.

But the Shchuchye facility significantly boosts destruction capacity. Russian officials claim that it will allow the country to meet its treaty obligations of destroying all chemical weapons by 2012, although Lugar said that goal probably won't be met.

Nonetheless, the opening — which follows preliminary destruction work that began in March — is significant because of the dangers posed by the weapons. Lugar said some of the nerve-gas shells at Shchuchye could kill 80,000 people if deployed in a stadium.

"This is just deadly stuff, in such huge amounts, and obviously, because of the size of it, portable. The dangers to the international community have been evident," he said.

The opening of the plant comes at a symbolically important time, as Russia and the United States take initial steps toward working out a successor to the START I nuclear arms reduction treaty that expires at the end of this year.