WASHINGTON IS WORRIED IT'S running out of tritium, the essential ingredient in thermonuclear warheads. So Energy Secretary Hazel O'Leary is expected to announce a deal soon that will keep the U.S. arsenal potent--and also please two key GOP senators by giving both their home states the action.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) wants any new tritium-production facility to be located in South Carolina. "We've got the expertise," says an aide. Senate Budget Committee Chairman Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) wants any research on tritium-making methods to be done at New Mexico's Los Alamos National Laboratory, which has nuke experience. Initial price tag for this multibillion-dollar program: $50 million in fiscal 1996.
The feds closed their aging tritium plant in 1988 at Savannah River, S.C. Even though pending treaties would reduce the nuclear arsenal, experts say the U.S. must start exhausting its limited-supply tritium stockpile by 2005. Tritium is good for up to 12 1/2 years, and then it has to be replaced.