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Global Security Newswire

South Carolina Facility's Weapons Role is Little Noticed

July 19, 2013

A South Carolina atomic energy facility is playing a quiet role in the maintenance of the U.S. warhead stockpile in seeming contradiction to a long-held U.S. government policy that military and civilian nuclear activities should be kept separate, the website War is Boring reported on Wednesday.

Under a U.S. government contract, scientists at the Columbia, S.C., plant for over 10 years have been putting together specialized metal rods that are a required component in the generation of the hydrogen isotope tritium. The atomic complex is owned by Westinghouse Electric subsidiary WesDyne. The site does not generate tritium, which is produced at an atomic energy complex in Tennessee.

The force of a nuclear blast is based largely on a tritium trigger.

 

Greg Mello, who heads the New Mexico-based Los Alamos Study Group, accused Washington of following a double standard. The United States has demanded that nations such as Iran and North Korea refrain from using their civilian atomic energy programs to develop warhead capabilities, but does not fully separate its own domestic nonmilitary and military nuclear activities.

"The rules are for them (North Korea and Iran) to follow, and we make them not so much for nuclear security as much as for geopolitical reasons," Mello said.

"While it may not be a technical violation of U.S. law, production of tritium for nuclear weapons in a commercial nuclear reactor violates longstanding policies not to use commercial nuclear facilities for production of nuclear weapons materials," said Friends of the Earth nuclear campaign coordinator Tom Clements.

This article was published in Global Security Newswire, which is produced independently by National Journal Group under contract with the Nuclear Threat Initiative. NTI is a nonprofit, nonpartisan group working to reduce global threats from nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons.

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