5. U.S. Pushes Nuclear Pact But Spends Billions To
Add Bang To Nukes
SOURCES: WASHINGTON POST, 5/1/95, "US Seeks Arms Ingredient As
It Pushes Nuclear Pact," and 5/28/95, "House Bill Would Order
Nuclear Reactor As New Source of Tritium;" Author: Thomas W. Lippman.
SYNOPSIS: Even as the United States urges the rest of the world
to indefinitely extend a treaty requiring signatories to work toward
elimination of nuclear weapons, the US Department of Energy is planning
a multibillion-dollar project to resume production of tritium-a radioactive
gas used to enhance the explosive power of nuclear warheads.
Apparently the only decision not yet made as the year drew to a close
was what kind of facility the department plans to build and where it
plans to build it.
The choice is between a huge particle accelerator, using theoretically
workable but untested technology, and a nuclear reactor, which would
be the first reactor ordered in the US since the 1979 Three Mile Island
Either choice involves immense political, financial, environmental
and national security risks, yet the American public is little aware
of the enormity of the decision to be made.
Many officials in the Clinton administration are averse to nuclear
power and do not want the federal government to sponsor construction
of a reactor. But many career staff members in the Energy Department
and the Pentagon have long supported the nuclear industry and favor
the reactor method of producing the tritium needed for the weapons program.
While Energy Secretary Hazel O'Leary has pledged to begin work on a
new facility to produce tritium in the next fiscal budget, she has been
under intense congressional pressure to choose the reactor option and
to build it at the Energy Department's Savannah River, S.C., weapons
plant where all of the tritium for the nation's nuclear arsenal has
O'Leary's choice appears to be between investing billions of federal
dollars in a particle accelerator or accepting a proposal from a nuclear
industry consortium to use mostly private funds to construct a reactor.
In late May, the Washington Post reported that the House committee
had approved legislation requiring the Energy Department to begin development
next year of a nuclear reactor that would produce tritium for the nation's
nuclear warheads, generate electricity, and burn plutonium as fuel.
Meanwhile the National Security Committee tacked the provision onto
the defense authorization bill.
While the bureaucrats' and politicians' argument has been limited to
two choices -- either the accelerator or the nuclear reactor -- the
American public deserves to be made aware of the issues surrounding
this critical decision.
Further, the public should be made aware that there is a third option:
not to produce the tritium needed to add more bang to America's nuclear
SSU Censored Researcher: Tina Duccini
COMMENTS: Author Thomas Lippman said the nuclear issue did not
receive sufficient coverage by the mass media but wondered, "What
would you expect? It is a complex, somewhat arcane subject." Nonetheless,
he continued, "The public should be aware that while the Cold War
is over, the arms race isn't. The public should realize that billions
of dollars are spent creating and marketing nuclear weapons." Lippman
added he'll "leave it up to the public whether that's a good idea
Lippman suggests the "lack of coverage results from the difficulty
of the subject matter and a lack of sex appeal. No one was covering
up or suppressing this information." Lippman said the published
articles resulted from: 1) his former experience in covering the Energy
Department, including the nuclear weapons plants and labs, and his current
experience in covering the State Department and foreign policy, which
give him sources in nonproliferation and nuclear communities; and 2)
the "willingness of the Washington Post to give news space to difficult