This post is prompted by the discussion that followed my brief note on SS-24 decommissioning. In the next few years Russia will be decommissioning quite a few solid-propellant ballistic missiles - in addition to RT-23UTTH/SS-24, Topol/SS-25 missiles will soon being retiring in large numbers. Some R-39/SS-N-20 missiles are also awaiting elimination. As it turned out, removing these missiles from service is relatively easy, while eliminating them is much harder.

The only technology that Russia has today for these missiles is to burn them, launch them, or blow them up (or a combination of these - in late 1990s R-39 missiles were eliminated by blowing them shortly after a launch from a submarine). This, of course, would release all kind of nasty chemicals into the atmosphere, but it is seems to be much cheaper than water washout.

With the hope that the releases can be minimized in a dedicated burn facility, the United States helped Russia build a facility of this kind in Votkinsk with more than $85 million in CTR money. The facility, however, was met with very strong local environmental opposition and at this point it is safe to say that it will never operate.

Where did the missiles go? It seems that they were sent to a plant in Perm, which was involved in production of R-39/SS-N-20 and RT-23UTTH rocket motors (as well as in that of the cancelled R-39 follow-on, Bark). It is possible that Perm has some kind of disposal facility there, but it is just as likely that they were burnt more or less in the open air. The FY 2006 CTR report mentions that six SS-24 missiles have been eliminated already. Which, of course, does not make the Perm population happy. Just a few days ago, Perm environmental activists sent a petition to Perm authorities, demanding that the practice should stop. It is quite likely that these missiles will be around for a while.