Defense Secretary Dick Cheney has banned permanently the peacetime loading of current-model, short-range nuclear missiles onto strategic aircraft placed on alert, a Pentagon spokesman said Saturday.
The decision to ground the Short-Range Attack Missile-A, or SRAM-A, was based on concerns that an accident could spread plutonium dust, a potent cancer-causer, over a large area.
Cheney issued a temporary order June 8 barring the missile from being loaded on B-52, B-1 and FB-111 bombers after the directors of three nuclear weapons laboratories expressed fears over the “remote” possibility of such an accident in testimony to Congress.
The order does not prohibit other nuclear weapons from being loaded aboard strategic bombers while on “ground alert” status.
The Air Force has said 1,500 of the SRAM-As were produced between 1971 and 1975, but the number deployed is classified.