In 2007 Albania became the world’s first country to destroy all of its chemical weapons in verifiable fashion eliminating more than 16 metric tons of mustard gas and other toxic agents. It did so during a six-month period using a German-designed incinerator with Swiss technical assistance. Björn Arne Johnson, a chemist who has been working with questions related to the chemical weapons for more than 30 years, told in exclusive interview to the Voice of Russia why Albania decides to take part in process of destruction of Syrian chemical weapons.
When we talk about this plan to destroy Syrian chemical weapons- why Albania? And do you see any rational in a decision to destroy Syrian weapons on Albanian soil?
Albania recently has destroyed all their weapons, so I guess that’s why they’ve come off as a possible country.
Do you think Albania is really the only place that’s technically equipped to do this?
No, I’m sure there maybe can be other places. But for the moment as you know the four countries that were asked were Albania, Belgium, France and Norway. So that’s why they’ve ended up with Albania, I think.
Can you tell us about the repercussions? People I think are getting nervous when they hear that chemical weapons are gonna be destroyed in their country or in their neighborhood. I’m just wondering how dangerous is it? And are there any possible repercussions to the environment? Is there any danger to people who are located near the destruction sites?
Of course, it’s dangerous. But I think the safety around such destructions is always so good and the procedure has been known. I don’t think if it’s placed in an area where you can have a safety like this, it should be any problem with doing it. So I don’t think anyone should be afraid of that.
The next question that comes to mind as lament in this matter is how will this weapons be transported? Albania destroyed several thousand metric tons but Syria has 16 metric tons, right? Syria has about a thousand metric tons of sarin nerve agent and mustard gas. How do you transport something like that?
Well, they have discussed to bring them by a ship. But I’ve also seen that Sweden has said that they can transport it by an airplane. And maybe that is possible to do from Syria to Albania, because you don’t have to cross any other countries. Because if that method has been used for Norway, I think it will be impossible because then you have to cross a lot of countries and I don’t think it will have a permission to do that. But from Syria to Albania – I think that could be possible also.
But psychically speaking, how difficult, I mean technically difficult, is it to really do that in a safe fashion? Because I’m thinking of the pressure, the change of pressure when you fly and so forth. Is that dangerous?
These agents will be stored safely in containers and in a big plane like Hercules it’s completely possible to do this. You don’t have any big pressure differences for instance in an airplane like that so that is possible.
Ok. And if we talk about the possibility of just doing it in Syria, how difficult would it be to create a system that similar to the one in Albania? Is that expensive? Does it take a long time to create that? Would it take a long time to create incinerators that would be able to safely destroy those weapons in Syria?
Probably it takes some more time to build up a system like that. And I think that’s the reason not to do it. Of course also it’s not safe enough to do it in Syria but it also takes time and what the UN resolution said that this weapon should be out of Syria before the end of the year. So I think it’s a time limit that no one likes to break.
This is more a political perhaps question: do you think that Albania and Albanians will actually agree to take part in that process? Could people be really opposed to this? I don’t think I would be happy about having this happening near me..
But again it’s very important to get information about this. Because as I said before only the main chemical weapon is enough to scare people. So there is a need for an explanation and insurance of what it is. It doesn’t seem to be a local binary components, it’s more like handling more relevant chemicals you may say.
I think the biggest risks possibly might be during the transport of it. Because you know if you have a proper incinerator that may be isn’t that scary but when you have a plane flying overhead..
I also think that they should be taken by a ship and therefore has been discussed so far. But as I said that Sweden has proposed that they can fly it. But I guess both these methods will be discussed, but I would prefer to take it by ship.