Nuclear Materials:

Decreasing Tritium Requirements and Their Effect on DOE Programs

RCED-91-100: Published: Feb 8, 1991. Publicly Released: Feb 25, 1991.

Additional Materials:


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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the adequacy of the Department of Energy's (DOE) tritium supplies, focusing on its ability to meet current and future defense tritium requirements for nuclear weapons and the effect of changes in those requirements on DOE programs.

GAO found that: (1) DOE obtained most of its tritium from reactors currently shut down for safety upgrades and from returned tritium from the nuclear weapons stockpile; (2) since 1988, the actual and projected number of weapons in the stockpile has decreased significantly, resulting in reduced future tritium requirements; (3) sufficient tritium supplies existed to meet the anticipated requirements for the nuclear weapons stockpile for the next several years; (4) further retirements of weapons, in addition to those already planned, and negotiations of reduction treaties could further reduce future tritium requirements; (5) tritium requirements could decrease even more if the projected number of nuclear warheads is further reduced by additional unilateral retirements or the signing of an arms reduction treaty; (6) the decreased requirements provided additional time for DOE to evaluate outstanding safety and environmental issues before restarting the closed reactors; (7) DOE did not plan to further delay the scheduled 1991 restart of the first reactor, in spite of the decreases in tritium requirements; and (8) the estimated cost of two reactors DOE planned to build was $6.8 billion, and DOE reported that, due to the high cost, it would build only one reactor, while leaving the option of constructing the second reactor open.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOE has delayed a decision on the technology for a new tritium production facility and is studying alternative tritium production technologies. As a result, there is no need for Congress to take action at this time.

    Matter: Congress should consider carefully the appropriate level of funding for further development of new reactor technologies with a view toward minimizing outlays while asking DOE to study whether other technologies may be better suited for the production of tritium in view of the decreased tritium requirements.


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