I suppose this will be sort of a chemical engineering, scale-up, process chemistry post. . .and most certainly will be filed here under the “How Not to Do It” category. The Bellingcat group (Dan Kaszeta in particular) have a very interesting look at a display in “Patriot Park” (a military-themed destination located in a town west of Moscow) of what is supposed to be a small Sarin production facility captured in Syria. Now, it certainly appears as if nerve agents have been used in the Syrian conflict, along with other chemical warfare agents. And the evidence is (from what I have seen) overwhelming that these have been used by the Assad government, with the support of Russia.
Needless to say, that’s not how the Russian government has the story. They have consistently claimed that the investigations into these attacks have been biased, faked, altered (etc.), and that either there have been no chemical munitions used in these attacks or they have been prepared by the anti-Assad forces themselves (and either used on government troops or on their own people as a false flag). The “Sarin production lab” exhibit is in furtherance of the latter story; this is supposedly equipment used by the rebel groups to make their own nerve agent.
As the Bellingcat link shows, though, this makes no sense. You will learn a good deal about the manufacture of Sarin from that article – more, perhaps, than you might have wanted to know, although it’s all very much in the public domain. The parts that are classified tend to be things like “How not to generate a waste stream of hot hydrogen fluoride mixed in with your nerve agent”, and the thought of that mixture should make your hair stand on end. Let’s just say, for starters, that you are not going to run such chemistry in a modified cement mixer.
Not for long, anyway. Neither you nor the mixer will be improved by the HF, which is one of the last things on earth you would want to expose such equipment to, and then there’s the matter of handling the Sarin itself. These process problems have been apparent since the German efforts to scale up nerve agent production during the Second World War, and a good deal of work in the 1950s and 1960s went into figuring out how to avoid them. You do not avoid them with the rig shown at the Russian theme park. It would kill everyone involved, and the only question is which awful thing would happen first.
There’s also the problem that the actual Sarin used in the Syrian conflict has a distinct chemical signature that is the sign of some process-chemistry modifications to the known preparations, and which does not seem to have been taken into account by whoever made this “reconstruction”. No, the Russian exhibit is laughable, not least because so many of its components are (as the post shows) off-the-shelf items procured in Russia. This is a show, and a rather stupid one, which will only sway the opinion of people who don’t know what they’re talking about. Admittedly, that’s a well-stocked category. But consider this: the use of nerve agents is still considered – and rightfully so – as so vile, so inhuman that even the people who are willing to deploy them feel compelled to lie about it.