Nuclear Science:

The Feasibility of Using a Particle Accelerator to Produce Tritium

RCED-90-73BR: Published: Feb 2, 1990. Publicly Released: Feb 20, 1990.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the feasibility of the Department of Energy (DOE) producing tritium, a critical material for nuclear weapons, using a linear accelerator, rather than a nuclear reactor, focusing on: (1) whether DOE adequately considered particle accelerator technologies during its examination of tritium production options; and (2) the cost, safety, and environmental advantages of accelerator production over nuclear reactor production of tritium.

GAO found that: (1) although accelerator production of tritium appeared feasible, DOE needed to design an accelerator with the operating characteristics necessary for tritium production; (2) although DOE concluded that alternative technologies could not provide new tritium production capacity within the needed time frame, it was reviewing the accelerator in more detail; (3) accelerator production of tritium would present fewer safety and environmental concerns, could have more cost and schedule advantages, and could be sized to meet specific tritium needs; and (4) because of the amount of electricity required to produce tritium with an accelerator, DOE could need a new electric generating plant, which could cause environmental consequences associated with fossil fuel or nuclear power generation.

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