Technological advances could reduce effectiveness of the Chemical Weapons Convention

Aug 12, 2005

Technological advances within the chemical industry could erode the effectiveness of the Chemical Weapons Convention's provisions for verification and compliance.

That assessment is offered by Tuan Nguyen, the Herbert York Fellow at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's Center for Global Security Research, in a paper to be published in the Aug. 12 edition of the journal Science. (The York Fellowship honors the Laboratory's first director, who is now director emeritus of the Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation at UC San Diego).

Because of the threat of chemical warfare and its use, the Chemical Weapons Convention was signed in 1993 to ban the stockpiling, production and usage of chemical weapons. This treaty, now signed by 170 nations, includes intrusive verification procedures that far exceed those of other treaties banning weapons of mass destruction.

However, in recent years the world's chemical industry has been developing micro-reactors that range in size from a credit card to the dimensions of a notebook to replace large batch reaction vessels. For the chemical industry, this change permits safer processing, better chemical yields and a reduction in overall costs.

"The key issue with these advancements in science and technology is that it's going to make it more difficult to monitor and verify compliance of the Chemical Weapons Convention," Nguyen said.

In his paper, he noted: "The inherently small physical size of the equipment and small space required make it attractive for clandestine operations. The ability to produce chemicals of interest in a safer and more feasible manner, with little signature produced, could encourage their application for malicious intent."

Although the full chemical synthesis potential of micro-reactors is not yet clear, several lethal chemicals – hydrogen cyanide, phosgene and methyl isocyanate – have already been produced using this system, according to Nguyen. In China, nitroglycerine has recently been produced using microprocess technology at a maximum rate of 10 kilograms per hour.

Another danger created by the growing usage of micro-reactors is that chemical weapon precursors could be synthesized rather than purchased, making it more difficult to discover the preparation of chemical weapons.

In Nguyen's view, while the need for control and verification must not hinder the development of these chemical industry technologies, the security challenges should not be ignored.

"To address these issues, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons should begin by partnering, not only with industry experts, but also with innovators of this technology to identify and characterize immediate threats associated with these advancements, he said."

Another step that could be taken, Nguyen notes, would be to fully implement United Nations Security Council Resolution 1540, which calls on nations to adopt legislation to criminalize proliferation activities and to develop and implement appropriate, effective export controls.

Source: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

Explore further: Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Dairy scientist targets heat-resistant microbes

Apr 08, 2014

Corralling desperados with names like bacillus and paenibacillus will require ingenuity and an arsenal of weapons. These outlaws aren't rustling cattle—they're making milk sour and cheese soft and crumbly.

Pharmacists crucial in plan for terrorist chemical weapons

Dec 10, 2011

Terrorist attacks with chemical weapons are a real possibility, according to a study that appears in the online open access journal, Journal of Pharmacy Practice, published by SAGE. Thanks to their extensive knowledge of tox ...

Debunking myths on nuclear power

Dec 31, 2013

It is the received wisdom that nuclear weapons and nuclear power are inseparable. Consequently, any country that builds a civilian nuclear power station is able to build an atomic bomb within a couple of ...

T-rays offer potential for earlier diagnosis of melanoma

Sep 11, 2013

The technology that peeks underneath clothing at airport security screening check points has great potential for looking underneath human skin to diagnose cancer at its earliest and most treatable stages, a scientist said ...

Recommended for you

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

8 hours ago

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Health care site flagged in Heartbleed review

21 hours ago

People with accounts on the enrollment website for President Barack Obama's signature health care law are being told to change their passwords following an administration-wide review of the government's vulnerability to the ...

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

21 hours ago

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.

Four questions about missing Malaysian plane answered

21 hours ago

Travelers at Asian airports have asked questions about the March 8 disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 while en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. Here are some of them, followed by answers.

Android gains in US, basic phones almost extinct

Apr 18, 2014

The Google Android platform grabbed the majority of mobile phones in the US market in early 2014, as consumers all but abandoned non-smartphone handsets, a survey showed Friday.

User comments : 0

More news stories

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.

Health care site flagged in Heartbleed review

People with accounts on the enrollment website for President Barack Obama's signature health care law are being told to change their passwords following an administration-wide review of the government's vulnerability to the ...

A homemade solar lamp for developing countries

(Phys.org) —The solar lamp developed by the start-up LEDsafari is a more effective, safer, and less expensive form of illumination than the traditional oil lamp currently used by more than one billion people ...

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...