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JOHNSTON ATOLL (October 31, 2000 - Radio Australia’s Pacific Beat)---The United States government has begun disposing the last batch of chemical weapons on Johnston Atoll in the mid-Pacific.

It will then take two years to dismantle the incinerators and buildings and thoroughly decontaminate the island before it becomes a permanent wildlife preserve.

The director of the facility, Gary McLoesky, said the final weapons being destroyed are 13,000 VX-nerve gas land mines.

"They (each) contain about 11 pounds of the chemical agent VX and about three quarters of a pound of explosives," he said.

"We’re doing a couple of hundred land mines, and we expect to (destroy) up to 300 to 400 mines a day.

"We expect the total operation to take about two months. That would put us around the end of November.

The JACADS facility is one of the safest industrial facilities in the United States, he said.

"We have an excellent safety record," he said. "Our OSHA (Occupational Safety Hazard Agency) reported injuries are much lower than the national average. We’ve only had one minor agent exposure here a few years ago when we were doing mustard operations. And it involved two small blisters on an individual."

McLoesky said the land mines are the last batch of chemical weapons that have to be destroyed on Johnston.

"We destroyed the GB nerve agent weapons first," he said. "We then destroyed all the mustard chemical weapons. There were four types of VX weapons here and we’re through with all of that except for the land mines."

For additional reports from Radio Australia/Pacific Beat, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Radio/TV News/Radio Australia/Pacific Beat.

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