Nuclear Materials:

Nuclear Arsenal Reductions Allow Consideration of Tritium Production Options

RCED-93-189: Published: Aug 17, 1993. Publicly Released: Sep 16, 1993.

Additional Materials:


Victor S. Rezendes
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the impact of planned reductions in the nation's nuclear arsenal on the Department of Energy's (DOE) tritium strategy, focusing on: (1) the DOE tritium supply; and (2) available alternatives for meeting tritium requirements.

GAO found that: (1) the 5-year tritium reserve and tritium recovered from dismantled nuclear weapons will meet tritium requirements until 2012, however, a new tritium source will be required to service the reduced arsenal and replenish the reserve; (2) the four tritium production alternatives that DOE has considered include three reactor technologies and a particle accelerator which will take 12 to 15 years to design, construct, and begin tritium production; (3) since DOE abandoned its plans to restart its reactor at its Savannah River site, it will use a commercial light-water reactor as an interim source if additional tritium supplies are needed; (4) DOE does not have an agreement with any utility to use its reactor for tritium production; and (5) other possible tritium sources include DOE test and research reactors, foreign countries, and detritiated heavy-water.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: As recommended, DOE reexamined the DOE tritium contingency planning strategy and issued a classified report iterating DOE's current strategy. DOE also reexained the need for a tritium reserve as part of the classified Nuclear Weapons Stockpile Memorandum process.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should reexamine the DOE tritium strategy with emphasis on contingency planning until a new production source is available. DOE should examine all potential tritium source alternatives, and its goal should be to utilize the most economic and appropriate means for providing a tritium contingency in the short term and midterm if tritium demand increases. In view of its implications for the size of and timing for a new tritium production source, the Secretary should also examine the role and need for the tritium reserve.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy


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