The Savannah River plant still produces materials used to maintain ourwarheads. What is that stuff, and why do we need it to maintain the warheads?The Savannah River Site produces tritium, which is used to boost fission in the primaries ofthermonuclear warheads. A thermonuclear warhead consists of two sections, the primary andthe secondary. The primary section is a nuclear fission device, generally a plutonium spherewhich is imploded to cause a nuclear fission detonation. It could also be uranium-235 metalsphere but it takes more of this material, and the goal of nuclear weapons design is to makethem as small as possible. The secondary section is fusion fuel, which, when initiated, resultsin the fusion of deuterium and tritium. The fusion reaction causes the deuterium and tritiumatoms’ protons to join together. In doing so the protons give up some of their mass in the formof energy. In fact, the energy released is greater than the energy that was required to force thetwo protons together. The diagram below illustrates the deuterium-tritium fusion reaction, withthe resultant formation of helium and the release of a neutron and energy:Before detonation of the primary, a few grams of tritium-deuterium gas are injected into the hollow sphere of fissile plutonium. This boosts the rate of fission substantially, so that muchmore of the fissile material is able to undergo fission before the core explosively disassembles.In summary, the tritium boosting process increases the explosive yield of the primary, whichallows the bomb to use less fissile plutonium as well. Below is an illustration of a thermonuclearweapon:The tritium in a warhead is continually undergoing radioactive decay, hence becomingunavailable for boosting the primary. Therefore, it is necessary to replenish tritium in boostedbombs periodically. The estimated quantity needed is 4 grams per warhead. To maintainconstant levels of tritium, about 0.20 grams per warhead per year must be supplied.From 1945 until 1949, the U.S. was the only nation with nuclear weapons. During these years immediately after World War 2, the world was in a general state of cooperation to prevent further such catastrophic wars, although there were rising tensions with the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) due to their policies to spread communism. The situation changed in 1949, when the USSR successfully tested their first nuclear weapon, a fission device similar to the plutonium implosion fission weapon the U.S. dropped on Nagasaki. This effectively started the Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) standoff between the two superpowers. MAD is a doctrine which arose from the mathematical discipline of game theory. Basically, it is premised upon the assumption that neither side will initiate a nuclear war because the annihilation of both sides would result due to continued escalation of nuclear weapons use. The doctrine requires that neither side construct shelters on a massive scale. Thus, it worked todeter using nuclear weapons.Aside from that, the use of nuclear weapons is almost universally considered to beunacceptable in any scenario, based on moral concerns. There is a strong international biasagainst nuclear weapons, due to the potential for immense civilian casualties, as well asenvironmental hazards from nuclear fallout.The main hazard is in removing, handling, and disposing of the the high explosives which surround the plutonium spheres in the primaries. The decay heat released by the plutonium pits is also a concern; some pits in storage can reach temperatures as high as 150 storage facilities for larger numbers of pits may require active cooling. Contamination of the pit with deuterium or tritium can cause the growth of a surface coating called plutonium hydride, which is pyrophoric, thus creating a fire hazard. There is furthermore a criticality hazard associated with handling and storing pits. That is, if two pits are not stored a safe distance apart, and kept away from neutron moderating and/or reflecting material, they can form what is called a “critical mass,” which is the smallest amount of fissile material needed for a sustained nuclear chain reaction. This can cause a fatal dose of neutron and gamma radiation to personnel in theimmediate vicinity. Lastly, there is the radiation hazard of plutonium, Plutonium predominantlyemits alpha particles. It is considered toxic mainly because if it were inhaled it could deposit inthe lungs and eventually cause damage to cells from the alpha radiation.The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, commonly known as the Non-Proliferation Treaty or NPT, is an international treaty whose objective is to prevent the spreadof nuclear weapons and weapons technology, to promote cooperation in the peaceful uses ofnuclear energy, and to further the goal of achieving nuclear disarmament and general andcomplete disarmament. It was opened for signature in 1968, and it entered into force in 1970.Article VI of the NPT says that each party ;undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a Treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control & quota;. The U.S. is a signatory of the NPT, and thus, is required to work for complete global disarmament. We should be prudent however, and not undertake unilateral disarmament. In particular, Russia still has about 7000 nuclear weapons, roughly the same as the U.S. Considering that our relations with Russia are very bad, almost reminiscent of the Cold War situation, we would be foolish to drastically reduce our nuclear weapons stockpile.According to the NPT, the other three official nuclear states are China, Great Britain, andFrance. The amount of nuclear weapons they have, respectively, are 270, 215, 300. So on apositive note, if we could improve our relations with Russia, it could be foreseen that both ourcountries could reduce our nuclear weapons down to the range of China, Great Britain, andFrance. This would set a good example for countries that have not signed the NPT and haveillegal nuclear weapons programs, in particular North Korea, India, Pakistan, and Israel. Lastly,it costs the U.S. roughly $60 billion annually to maintain its nuclear arsenal. Reducing ourstockpile can save the taxpayers money.