A draft arms control impact statement on the neutron enhanced radiation warhead for the Lance missile will go to the White House today from the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, according to congressional sources.
According to these sources, a debate was under way yesterday within ACDA as to whether the agency would use the impact statement to question the need for production of the new generation of neutron warheads and artillery projectiles that is being pushed by the Pentagon.
One key White House source said yesterday he believed, as of now, "production will go ahead."
White Housed press secretary Jody Powell said last week that the President would not make up his mind until this fall.
Money to produce the neutron Lance warhead, and an 8-inch neutron artillery projectle is in the Energy Research and Development Administration portion of the public works money bill now before the Snate.
Late last week, Claiborne Pell (D.R.I.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations arms control, subcommittee, wrote ACDA Director Paul C. Warnke asking for an arms control statement provisions of a law passed in 1975.
Although the Ford administration approved production plans for the new enhanced radiation warhead last November, an impact statement for it was never supplied to the Congrss.
Pell, in his letter, said the Ford administration's decision not to supply that statement amounted to "failure to comply with the law."
The Ford administration did supply, however, an arms control impact statement on the non-nuclear Lance which it wanted to go into production.
Pell asked that the impact statement be prepared "on an urgent basis" so that senators would have it prior to debate on the public works money bill now set for later this week.
Sen. Mark O. Hatfield (R-Ore) has announced he will fight to have the bill. He wants any congressional funding decision delayed until after President Carter makes his decision on whether production will go ahead.
Carter, on the other hand, has asked that money be voted so, in the words last week of Powell, the President could "keep his options open."
Pell's demand for a statement may force the President to take a position on enhanced radiation weapons earlier than he had expected, Carter and his top administration officials did not know until new stories appeared that the production funds for those weapons were in the fiscal 1978 budget they had reviewed and sent to Capitol Hill in February for approval.
A key administration official involved in the neutron debate said yesterday that "anyone trying to sell (the enhanced radiation weapons) as more usable is pushing a policy that is not that of the Carter administration."
They don't change the problem of the nuclear threshhold," he said, " and if they did, that image would become a matter of public concern."
For this official, the decision on whether or not to product the new generation of neutron weapons rests "on whether it is cost effective to the military...whether this is an option worth having."
Three years ago, Warnke, then out of government, testified before a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee that "an new generation of tactical nuclear weapons would be an absolute disaster."
At the time, the only new weapons under consideration that Warnke knew about were not the neutron variety but had, as he put it, "lower yield and greater accuracy and presumably few collateral consequences ... (By "collateral consequences" he referred to damage effect.)
Such weapons, Warnke said, "would erode rather than strengthen deterence" and could at worst "increase the prospects of eventual all-out nuclear war."
Proposed production of the 8-inch and Lance neutron warheads represents the first time tactical nuclear weapons would be procured that are specifically designed to kill people, primarily through radiation rather than destroy military installations and equipment by heat and blast.
Pell, in his letter to Warnke, asked specifically that the arms control impact statement answer the question whether deployment of the new Lance warhead "would...lower the nuclear threshhold" and make "use of tactical nuclear weapons more likely?"
Warnke, however, was in the Soviet Union and his top aides have been handling preparation of the impact statement.
Final decision on what it will contain will be with the national Security Council - and thus the President.
It will be the first such impact statement from the Carter administration.