U.S. Supplies of Tritium Gas Held Adequate

From The Washington Post

The Energy Department has enough of the vital radioactive gas tritium to meet its nuclear weapons production requirements for several years and can substantially slow the timetable for restarting a reactor that produces the gas in Savannah River S.C., a study by the General Accounting Office says.

The study, to be released today, challenges several other assumptions driving the government’s multibillion-dollar strategy for tritium, a gas long thought to be in such short supply that the stability of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile was threatened.

The study questions the Energy Department’s plan to begin producing tritium gas at the aged Savannah River “K” reactor later this year without first resolving all safety issues and mitigating environmental effects--a decision being contested in federal court.

The GAO report also questions the need to build a $4-billion reactor for tritium production by the year 2000. It said a single, older reactor at Savannah River can “meet projected tritium requirements over (its) . . . remaining useful life.” It suggests officials could pursue less expensive and safer alternatives to a new reactor.


Energy Undersecretary John Tuck said he disputes the GAO’s conclusion that the Savannah River reactor, closed since August, 1988, need not be restarted later this year. He also said construction of a new reactor is needed to guard against unforeseen problems with the old reactor, which is already at or beyond its projected life span.