Nuclear Materials:

GAO's Views on Decreasing Tritium Requirements and Their Effect on DOE Programs

T-RCED-91-21: Published: Mar 13, 1991. Publicly Released: Mar 13, 1991.

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GAO discussed the Department of Energy's (DOE) tritium supplies, focusing on: (1) DOE projections of tritium requirements and supplies; and (2) the impact of future tritium supplies on DOE programs. GAO noted that: (1) the projected U.S. defense tritium requirements and planned nuclear weapons decreased dramatically from 1988 through 1990 and could decrease further; (2) sufficient tritium supplies will exist to meet the anticipated needs of the nuclear weapons stockpile for the next several years; (3) further retirements of weapons, in addition to those already planned, and negotiations of arms reduction treaties could reduce tritium requirements further; (4) maintaining an overly large tritium reserve would present such disadvantages as tritium's rapid decay rate and the need to constantly replenish it; (5) the decreased tritium requirement provided additional time for DOE to evaluate and resolve outstanding safety and environmental issues and reconsider whether plans for future tritium production capacity were appropriate; (6) three production reactors, which closed in 1988 for safety upgrades, are currently the nation's only production source of tritium; (7) the decrease in current and projected DOE tritium demand suggests that the urgency associated with restarting the reactors has diminished; (8) DOE did not plan to further delay the scheduled restart of the first reactor, in spite of decreases in tritium requirements; and (9) DOE reported that, due to high costs, it would build only one of two reactors it had planned to construct.

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