In the U.S., tritium for nuclear weapons was one of several products produced by the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) and its successor, the Department of Energy (DOE), during the Cold War. The machines for tritium production were water-cooled, graphite-moderated production reactors in Hanford, Washington, and heavy water cooled and moderated production reactors at the Savannah River Plant (SRP, now Savannah River Site, SRS) in South Carolina. Lithium “targets,” containing enriched lithium-6 produced at the Y-12 Plant in Oak Ridge Tennessee, were irradiated in these reactors to produce tritium. Later, tritium was extracted from the targets, purified and packaged for use in nuclear weapons in separate facilities, initially at Hanford and Los Alamos and later at Savannah River.
Today, tritium for the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile is produced in light water cooled and moderated commercial pressurized water reactors (PWRs) owned and operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). Tritium is extracted from the targets, purified and packaged for use in nuclear weapons at the Savannah River Site (SRS).
The following three timelines provide details on tritium production activities in the Cold War nuclear weapons complex:
- Cold War-era tritium production at Hanford (1942 to 2012): https://secureservercdn.net/18.104.22.168/gkz.aeb.myftpupload.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/Timeline-1_Cold-War-tritium-production-at-Hanford-converted.pdf
- Cold War-era tritium production at Savannah River (1950 to 1996): https://secureservercdn.net/22.214.171.124/gkz.aeb.myftpupload.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/Timeline-2_Cold-War-tritium-production-at-SRP-converted.pdf
- Cold War-era lithium enrichment at Oak Ridge (1950 to late 1980s): https://secureservercdn.net/126.96.36.199/gkz.aeb.myftpupload.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/Timeline-3_Cold-War-lithium-enrichment-converted.pdf
The following timeline provides details on the post-Cold War nuclear weapons complex:
- Evolution of the modern U.S. tritium production capability (1988 to present): https://secureservercdn.net/188.8.131.52/gkz.aeb.myftpupload.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/Timeline-4_Modern-CLWR-tritium-production-converted.pdf
These timelines provide supporting information for my post, “U.S. tritium production for the nuclear weapons stockpile – not like the old days of the Cold War,” which is at the following link: https://lynceans.org/all-posts/u-s-tritium-production-for-the-nuclear-weapons-stockpile-not-like-the-old-days-of-the-cold-war/