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Nuclear Bomb Records Are Lost, U.S. Says

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Nuclear Bomb Records Are Lost, U.S. Says
The Washington Times
Friday, October 24, 1997
By RALPH VARTABEDIAN, Times Staff Writer
WASHINGTON--The Energy Department has disclosed in private correspondence that it cannot locate the records proving that it dismantled and destroyed as many as 30,000 nuclear bombs at weapon plants across the nation between 1945 and 1975.

Although experts dismiss the possibility that the federal government has lost or hidden any nuclear weapons, the missing documents could cause problems in future arms control efforts.

The missing U.S. records were sought by the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group, which had filed a request for the documents under the Freedom of Information Act.

The agency told the environmental group in a series of letters that "nuclear weapon disassembly information . . . could not be located." In a letter this week to Energy Secretary Federico Pena, the council asked the department to find or reconstruct the missing data.

In a statement released Thursday, an Energy Department spokeswoman suggested that the department had not conducted an exhaustive search and would "explore how this information might be made available" to the environmental group.

The Energy Department never has disclosed exactly how many nuclear bombs it has produced, but outside estimates peg the number at 70,000 warheads since World War II. Of those, the Natural Resources Defense Council has estimated that 11,000 remain in the Pentagon's strategic stockpile.

The rest of the weapons presumably were destroyed, which should be reflected in unclassified Energy Department records, according to Thomas Cochran, a nuclear weapon expert on the council.

But the Energy Department responded to the group's request for the data with a letter saying that it could not locate any records for destruction of bombs before 1975, when assembly and dismantlement sites were operated in New Mexico, Texas, Iowa and Tennessee.

Available records show that since 1975 the government has destroyed 26,735 bombs at facilities in Oak Ridge, Tenn., and Amarillo, Texas. An additional 1,741 bombs are awaiting destruction at the Energy Department's Pantex Plant in Amarillo.

But that leaves about 30,000 bombs unaccounted for, according to Cochran and the council's estimates.

The absence of documentation mirrors serious problems, uncovered in the early 1990s, with the Energy Department's accounting for its plutonium, the radioactive material that undergoes fission in a bomb. Of the 95.5 tons of plutonium made in the United States after World War II, the Energy Department was unable to account for 2.8 tons, Cochran said.

A nuclear bomb is considered destroyed when technicians remove the conventional high explosive that surrounds a plutonium sphere inside the bomb.

The Energy Department keeps reports on the time, location and number of weapons destroyed. It is those records that are missing for a period of 30 years.

"I find it extraordinary that they didn't keep the records," Cochran said. "It is going to be difficult to ever have a full reconciliation."

The Energy Department spokeswoman said, "We believe we can provide a reconciliation of our production and dismantlement history."

Such a reconciliation will be crucial if nuclear weapons are ever to be eliminated, because every nuclear power will want to ensure that the other powers do not have secret stockpiles, he said. [Unedited] Compliments of Proposition One Committee



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