Too hot to handle: Robot to help destroy defense chemicals

If the air is calm Monday morning, the Louisiana National Guard will use a robot to open a bunker door at Camp Minden and set up remote ignition of 820 pounds of an unstable, fast-burning chemical compound stored there.

It's by far the smallest amount of "clean-burning igniter" remaining after a bunker of it exploded Sept. 29.

A Defense Department team found that the three remaining bunkers of igniter are too dangerous to handle but should be quickly destroyed, officials told local residents last week.

The bunker door will be opened because the igniter, also called nitrocellulose, burns very rapidly and is only explosive when confined, Brian Salvatore, chairman of the chemistry and physics department at Louisiana State University in Shreveport and a member of the Camp Minden citizens' advisory committee, said last week.

A magazine holding 114,000 pounds of igniter is scheduled for burning Saturday. Another one holding 84,000 pounds of igniter and 40,000 pounds of M6 artillery propellant is to be burned Oct. 29.

Explo Systems Inc., which leased space from Camp Minden, abandoned 160 tons of igniter and 7,800 tons of M6 — nitrocellulose with additives that slow its burn — when it went bankrupt in 2013.

The owners and four officials of that company have pleaded not guilty to federal charges alleging they lied to get Army contracts to "demilitarize" artillery shells, stored the compounds unsafely and obstructed inspections.

Their trial date will be set at a Dec. 13 status conference.