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Soviet Weapons Reactors Also ‘Old, Obsolete, Unsafe,’ U.S. Study Finds

United Press International

The Soviet Union faces the same problem in its nuclear weapons program as the United States--"old, obsolete and unsafe” production reactors, the Energy Department said in a study released Monday.

However, the study noted that the Soviets have more options than the Americans with regard to the replacement of aging reactors, mainly the possible conversion of Chernobyl-style civilian reactors to weapons production.

The study, obtained and released by the Nuclear Control Institute, an arms control group, comes amid mounting revelations about safety problems at three weapons reactors of the federal Savannah River Plant in South Carolina.

The department study on the Soviet weapons reactors was prompted by an arms control proposal by the Nuclear Control Institute that calls for using the decay rate of tritium to set a schedule for reducing warhead arsenals.

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Under the “tritium factor” proposal, the United States and the Soviet Union would agree to stop producing tritium and instead would reduce their arsenals at the rate dictated by their dwindling--and presumably equivalent--supplies of tritium.

In response to that proposal, the Energy Department’s Los Alamos National Laboratory prepared a study in June for the deputy assistant energy secretary in charge of intelligence, criticizing the idea as “dangerously simplistic.”

The study said a major problem with the proposal was that it would be impossible to assure that the Soviets complied with the freeze on tritium production.

The study said that while Soviet weapons production reactors are aging much as the U.S. reactors are, the Soviets could more easily convert civilian reactors to military use than can the United States.

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