• Wedge


A Japanese firm claims it has technology that can help Syria dispose of its chemical weapons in line with a Sept. 27 United Nations Security Council resolution ordering the nation to do so.

“Davinci (short for detonation of ammunition in a vacuum integrated chamber), a device we developed and own in the U.S., can decompose sarin. We have proved it is technologically possible by experimenting with an agent similar to sarin,” said Yoshimasa Yamamoto, a board member at Kobe Steel Ltd. who is in charge of the firm’s Davinci device, which is designed to detonate chemical weapons in an enclosed vacuum.

Inspectors from the U.N. and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons are currently rounding up the chemical arms in Syria, including sarin.

The Davinci device can destroy the nerve agent via a remote-controlled detonation. A chemical weapon is placed in its container along with explosives. The high-temperature, pressurized detonation makes it certain that the chemical agent’s molecular bonds will disintegrate and that waste and emission will be marginal and nontoxic.

Chemical weapons have been used since World War I. The dismantlement of such arms has been regulated through the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), which took effect in 1997.

There are currently three ways to dispose of chemical weapons: burning them, neutralizing them chemically and detonating them in a sealed enclosure.

“The burning method may cause air pollution. Neutralization by chemicals is technologically complicated as the methods vary depending on type of chemical arm and its degree of deterioration. Thus the detonation method is considered the optimal solution,” Yamamoto said.

Controlled detonations require sophisticated technology, and Kobe Steel and U.S.-based CH2M HILL are the only providers of such technologies in the world.

The Davinci device is already in operation in Belgium, and Kobe Steel has received orders for it from the U.S. and France.

Japan also faces the task of destroying its wartime stocks of chemical weapons.

The Imperial Japanese Army took massive amounts of chemical weapons to China, and left thousands of them there when World War II ended.

In 1990, Beijing informally asked Tokyo to rid China of its Japanese chemical weapons, many of which were buried. This led to both countries ratifying the CWC and signing a memorandum of understanding on the disposal of chemical weapons in 1999. Disposal began in 2000.

Japan has since destroyed about 50,000 chemical weapons. But many more are believed buried in different parts of China, including some 300,000 or 400,000 arms in northeastern Jilin province.

Chemical weapons are also being disposed of in Japan as well.

About 4,400 chemical weapons of the Imperial army were believed dumped off the port of Kanda, Fukuoka Prefecture. The disposal began in 2005 and as of Oct. 3, 2,968 units had been retrieved and neutralized.

Japan didn’t produce toxins such as sarin, a nerve gas. The chemical arms buried in China are mainly blistering agents, including mustard gas, and an agent that induces sneezing. But it is possible Syria also has the kinds of chemical weapons the Japanese government has been disposing of.

Under the CWC, Syria must dispose of its own chemical weapons. But if the country is unable to do so, it can ask for international assistance, and Japan would be prepared to help.

“Japan is one of the few countries, as well as the U.S., Russia, Britain, France and Germany, that have the technology to dispose of chemical weapons. In 1991, Japan dispatched Self-Defense Forces members to a U.N.-led delegation to inspect chemical weapons in Iraq,” said Tadao Inoue, who served as a Japanese representative for the U.N. Conference on Disarmament as well as the head of the Ground Self-Defense Force’s chemical school.

“In the case of Syria, there is room for Japan to contribute in such areas as providing economic support to manage and dispose of chemical weapons, dispatching Self-Defense Forces (personnel) and police, and providing medical assistance and technology to dispose of the weapons,” Inoue said.

This section, which will appear every second and fourth Monday, features translated stories on hot national topics from the monthly magazine Wedge. The original article was published in the November issue. To see Wedge’s website, go to wedge.ismedia.jp