Nuclear Science:

Consideration of Accelerator Production of Tritium Requires R&D

RCED-92-154: Published: Jun 15, 1992. Publicly Released: Jul 30, 1992.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO provided information on tritium production using an particle accelerator, focusing on the: (1) current status of the accelerator concept; and (2) extent to which the Department of Energy (DOE) has considered the accelerator concept.

GAO found that: (1) due to a lack of DOE funding, the particle accelerator's capability for tritium production remains unknown; (2) although the use of a particle accelerator may present safety and environmental advantages over the use of nuclear reactors, DOE has not explored or resolved technological issues and continues to rely on the proven reactor technology for tritium production; (3) the reduction of nuclear weapons stockpiles has lessened the urgency for tritium, which allows time for reevaluating and comparing particle accelerator capabilities with reactor options; and (4) to sufficiently compare accelerator capabilities with reactor capabilities, DOE will need a funded research and development program.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOE has allocated $30 million for research and development to investigate the feasibility and practicality of using an accelerator to produce tritium. The information developed through this effort will allow inclusion of the accelerator as an option for the future production of tritium.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should ensure that the accelerator concept is given full consideration when the advantages and disadvantages of possible tritium production options are compared. This concept would require research and development funding to better understand the feasibility and practicality of using an accelerator to produce tritium. Any program should be structured to provide timely and sufficient information for assessing the accelerator as an option in the decision on new tritium production capacity, which DOE currently has scheduled for August 1993. Now that the urgency for new tritium production capacity has been reduced, DOE should ensure that sufficient time is allowed to study and consider the technology options and their potential benefits before a final decision is made.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy


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