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Report of the Defense Science Board Task Force on Tritium Production Technology Options

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Final technical rept.

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The long-standing national security policy of the U.S. to maintain a robust nuclear deterrent continues to be supported by the Congress and the President. The President has stated that ...our nuclear deterrent posture is one of the most visible and important examples of how U.S. military capabilities can be used effectively to deter aggression and coercion. Nuclear weapons serve as a hedge against an uncertain future, a guarantee of our security commitments to allies, and a disincentive to those who would contemplate developing or otherwise acquiring their own nuclear weapons. U.S. nuclear weapons designs require tritium, an isotope of hydrogen, which has not been produced in the U.S. since 1988, when the last tritium production facility the K-Reactor at the Savannah River Site was shut down. This long period without tritium production in the U.S. has been possible because arms control agreements reached in the early 1990s reduced the size of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile and because the Department of Energy DOE met stockpile tritium requirements by recycling the tritium removed from dismantled nuclear weapons. However, since tritium decays at a rate of 5.5 each year, a dependable source of tritium is required to continue to sustain the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile to underwrite national security policy and to support arms control goals. The U.S. does maintain a five-year reserve supply of tritium, but this reserve is to be used only in an emergency. Current guidance states the reserve must be restored to its original level within five years of being used. To sustain the START I level, tritium production needs to begin around 2005 at a production capacity of about 3.0 kgyear. START II levels could be sustained with production of about 1.5 kgyear beginning around 2011.

Subject Categories:

  • Isotopes
  • Military Intelligence
  • Nuclear Weapons

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