Notes from the Sausage Factory:
September 2, 1998
Discussion Thread: #s 122, 128, 130, 135, 165, 166, 167, 168, 169, 172, 177
 George Wilson, "CBO Cost Figures Heat Up Fight Over Tritium Production Site," LEGI-SLATE News Service, August 27, 1998. Excerpts attached.
 Email from company-level Army officer on training shortfalls (quoted at end of my comments)
Floyd Spence (R SC), the Chairman of the House National Security Committee and Senator Strom Thurman (R SC), Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, are two of the most vociferous critics of the Pentagon's readiness. Many of their criticisms are well founded, but their argument that budget cut backs caused these problems is wrong. Readiness problems are more a consequence of misplaced priorities held by decision makers in the Pentagon and Congress, who say one thing but do another. [e.g., see the contrast between Senator McCain's laments about and his actions to reduce pork in Military Construction, Comment #s 128, 130,135,167].
The attached article by veteran defense reporter George Wilson is yet more evidence of how porkbarrel shenanigans soak up scarce defense dollars that could be better spent elsewhere. In this case, a defense-related boondoggle in the Energy Department, which is about to shovel money into South Carolina, could absorb some of the money Mr. Spence and Mr. Thurman say the Pentagon needs for higher priorities, like readiness.
The name of this game is tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen (Hydogen-3), with a half life of 12.3 years. Tritium enhances the explosive yield and lightens the weight of nuclear bombs, but its short half life (high rate of radioactive decay) means that it must be replaced periodically to keep the bombs functional. The United States stopped producing tritium in 1988 when it closed the last reactor at the Savannah River site in South Carolina. Since then, the United States has been maintaining its nuclear stockpile by using tritium from deactivated warheads, but over 40% of this stockpile has been lost to radioactive decay. Under current and projected arms limitation agreements, the US will have to begin acquiring new tritium in 2005. The question is how to obtain it.
In order of increasing cost, there are four generic sources of tritium:
Wilson shows how the debate of the best course of action has degenerated into a porking war between Alabama and South Carolina over the TWO MOST EXPENSIVE OPTIONS, with South Carolina, and the most expensive, highest risk option being the odds on favorite to win. Now it is important to remember that the nuclear weapons programs in the Energy Department fall under the 050 National Security Budget category that is used to calculate the defense budget cap approved by Congress and President. In other words, the Pentagon may have to reduce its budget so the Energy Department can increase its budget.
Read Wilson's report [Reference #1] carefully. You will see the subject is not really tritium, it is politics-as-usual in the military-industrial-congressional complex. It is just one more example, (remember the C-130J [#154] and the CVN-77 [#146]), of how "pro-defense" legislators weaken national security by shoveling money for hi-tech boondoggles to their home states.
Meanwhile, the troops in the field don't have enough money to train with. Perhaps that is why I keep getting email from company grade combat leaders like the one I receive this morning --
[Disclaimer: In accordance with 17 U.S.C. 107, the following material is distributed without profit or payment to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this information for non-profit research and educational purposes only.]
CBO Cost Figures Heat Up Fight Over Tritium Production Site
by George C. Wilson LEGI-SLATE News Service
In constant 1999 dollars, the CBO said the South Carolina option would cost $9.5 billion, compared to $2.5 billion for the Alabama alternative. In dollars adjusted for government earnings on its money, the totals would be $6 billion vs. $2.3 billion, according to CBO.
"We've got everything on our side but the votes," said one lobbyist for the Alabama option, who did not want his name used. His pessimism stemmed from the fact that Chairmen Strom Thurmond of the Senate Armed Services Committee and Floyd Spence of the House National Security Committee -- South Carolina Republicans who want the $16 billion accelerator built in their home state -- will run the conference.
"Seldom do we agree on anything," said Graham of Markey. "But if we allow a commercial reactor to make a nuclear weapons product, we are taking 50 years of American public policy and turning it on its head at a time the world is in the most danger it has been in recent times."
© 1996-1998 LEGI-SLATE, Inc.