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Tritium on Ice

In December 1998, Energy Secretary Bill Richardson announced that the U.S. planned to begin producing tritium for its nuclear weapons in commercial nuclear power plants. This decision overturned a fifty-year policy of keeping civilian and military nuclear production processes separate. Tritium, a radioactive form of hydrogen, is needed to turn A-bombs into H-bombs, and the commercial nuclear power plants that are to be modified to produce tritium are called ice condensers. This book provides an insider's perspective on how Richardson's decision came about, and why it is dangerous.

Kenneth Bergeron shows that the new policy is unwise not only because it undermines the U.S. commitment to curb nuclear weapons proliferation but also because it will exacerbate serious safety problems at these commercial power facilities, which are operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority and are among the most marginal in the United States. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission's review of the TVA's request to modify its plants for the new nuclear weapons mission should attract significant attention and opposition.

Tritium on Ice is part expose, part history, part science for the lay reader, and part political science. Bergeron's discussion of how the issues of nuclear weapons proliferation and nuclear reactor safety have become intertwined illuminates larger issues about how the federal government does or does not manage technology in the interests of its citizens and calls into question the integrity of government-funded safety assessments in a deregulated economy.
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Civilian and military uses of nuclear power have always been separate. Secretary Richardson's decision blurred what has always been a bright line. Bergeron's book explains how that significant decision was made. He writes with clarity and conviction about nuclear weapons and nuclear power as a knowledgeable insider in both camps. I have never read an account that covers both the Department of Energy and Nuclear Regulatory Commission perspectives with such insight. -- David Lochbaum, Nuclear Safety Engineer, Union of Concerned Scientists Tritium on Ice is a lively and authoritative account and critique of the evolution of U.S. tritium policy. The reader will also learn a great deal about the organization and culture of the United States nuclear establishment and about the fundamental safety issues of the 100-odd nuclear power reactors operating in the U.S. today. -- Frank von Hippel, Professor of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University It is ironic that Kenneth Bergeron's T ritium on Ice is reaching bookstores at the same time President Bush is making the case that we must remove Saddam Hussein in order to ensure he does not obtain nuclear weapons. For fifty years, a key principle in U.S. nonproliferation policy has been the prohibition of using civilian nuclear reactors to produce the nuclear ingredients of hydrogen bombs. Now the Bush administration is taking steps to blur the line between the commercial and military uses of atomic energy by allowing the production of tritium in civilian nuclear reactors, reversing the long-standing U.S. ban on reprocessing nuclear fuel, and disposing of excess weapons-grade plutonium in civilian nuclear reactors. If we are serious about reducing the number of nuclear weapons in our arsenal down to the START II treaty levels negotiated by the first President Bush in 1993, let alone to the lower levels the second President Bush agreed to in 2002, then we would not need new tritium for decades, and the current plan to produce it in commercial reactors would be unnecessary. This well-researched and well-written book exposes the hypocrisy and deception that lie behind the reversal of the 'no dual use' nonproliferation policy, a reversal likely to diminish long-term prospects for preventing the spread of nuclear weapons throughout the world. -- U.S. Congressman Edward J. Markey, senior Member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and co-Chair of the Bipartisan Task Force on Nonproliferation

About the Author

Kenneth D. Bergeron is an Albuquerque-based physicist and writer who specialises in social and political aspects of science and technology. For twenty-five years he worked at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, primarily on the safety of commercial nuclear reactors and the military reactors used to produce tritium for nuclear weapons.


"This well-researched and well-written book exposes the hypocrisy and deception that lie behind the reversal of the 'no dual use' nonproliferation policy, a reversal likely to diminish long-term prospects for preventing the spread of nuclear weapons throughout the world." - Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-MA), senior Member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and Cochair of the Bipartisan Task Force on Nonproliferation

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