UMR researchers recently helped engineers in the former Soviet republic of Ukraine harness the power of water to disarm and dispose of their nation’s Cold War-era missiles.
The UMR researchers are known for their expertise in using waterjets to find and neutralize landmines, cut through rubble and carve works of art out of Missouri granite. They have been working with this technology at the UMR High Pressure Waterjet Laboratory since 1984.
"We were subcontracted to train and supervise the Ukrainians on how to evaluate the safety of waterjet technology for the removal of the explosives and propellants from the missiles," says Dr. Paul Worsey, professor of mining engineering and one of the key researchers in the group. Even though UMR’s portion of the project is complete, it will be at least another year before the missiles and silos are completely eliminated.
UMR has been conducting the work as part of a project funded by the U.S. Defense Department’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA). The UMR team was contracted for more than $70,000 by Washington Group International and Alliant Techsystems (ATA) Thiokol Propulsion, an aerospace and defense company. DOD and DTRA are working under the terms of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty in disarming the missiles and eliminating the 46 silos that existed in the Ukraine. DTRA works to ensure the United States is able to address threats from such weapons of mass destruction.
With the use of a specially designed waterjet, the operator is able to disassemble the missile from a safe distance, Worsey says. After the missile is disarmed, the casing is washed out and crushed. The propellant is then recycled by blending it with emulsion explosives and used in mining in the Ukraine. This method is more environmentally friendly than the traditional method of burning them, Worsey says.
Production of the missiles, also called SS 24 Rockets, ceased in 1991, having been manufactured during the Cold War for the sole purpose of delivering nuclear warheads on U.S. and allied targets. With hostility increasing in the Middle East, these dormant missiles have potential for great destruction if they "fall into the wrong hands," says Worsey.
With the ability to carry more than 10 nuclear warheads, an SS-24’s range is more than 6,200 miles. More than 50 missiles have been disarmed during the course of this project. "The sum of rockets that are being dismantled and destroyed on this single project had the capability of destroying every United States major city, over two million people per city, and wiping out more than half of the United States population," Worsey says.
The missile plants are located in Pavlograd, Ukraine, a town that was built around the plants sometime during the Cold War. "The whole reason that Pavlograd exists is because of these missile plants, so one of the project’s goals is to find a way to keep the plant workers employed," Worsey says. "This would make it less likely that they would share their expertise about missile manufacturing with hostile countries."
Members of the UMR research team include Dr. Paul Worsey; Dr. David Summers, Curators’ Professor of mining engineering and director of UMR’s Rock Mechanics and Explosives Research Center (RMERC); John Tyler, research engineer for RMERC; Bob Fossey, research specialist for RMERC, and Scott Parker, senior laboratory mechanic for RMERC.