The first details on the radiation effects of the Pentagon's proposed new generation of neutron tactical nuclear weapons emerged yesterday from Army documents and government weapons experts.
The Senate is due to vote today on funding production of the new generation of enhanced-radiation weapons - an 8-inch artillery shell and a new warhead for the Lance missile.
The Army documents describe in clinical field manual prose the devastating effect of neutron bomb technology on personnel while sparing enemy installations and equipment the heat and blast effects of conventional nuclear weapons.
"This represents a change in the way certain parts of the defense establishment want to look at the use of nuclear weapons . . .", said a government official who has been monitoring the nuclear weapons development programs.
The rationale for the new radiation-enhanced weapons is the belief of Pentagon planners that regular nuclear weapons would be less likely to be employed because of their greater heat and blast effect beyond battle-field range.
Arguing that a new generation of enhanced-radiation tactical nuclear weapons would be more acceptable for battlefield use, the Pentagon has been pushing for congressional approval of production money for the neutron shell and warhead.
According to informed sources, a 1 kiloton neutron enhanced radiation artillery projectile or missile warhead would deliver 8,000 rads of radiation to exposed individuals within a half mile of the explosion.
At 8,000 rads, according to a reference book of the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College on "Conventional-Nuclear Operations".
"Personnel will become incapacitated within five minutes of exposure and for physically demanding tasks will remain incapacitated until death . . . in one to two days."
At 3,000 rads, according to the same volume, exposed individuals become incapacitated within five minutes and remain so for 30 to 45 minutes. "Personnel will then recover," the books goes on to say, "but will be functionally impaired until death . . . in four to six days."
At 650 rads, according to the book, functional impairment takes place within two hours.
But the book adds, "Personnel may respond to medical treatment and survive this dose: however, the majority of exposed personel will remain functionally impaired until death in several weeks."
According to informed sources, the 1 kiloton neutron weapon's output of radiation falls rapidly, but a dose of 650 rads would be delivered up to three-quarters of a mile from the target.
To obtain the same killing effect of a 1-kiloton neutron weapon with tactical nuclear weapons now in the Army inventory a 10-kiloton weapon would have to be used, informed sources said.
The funds for the new enhanced radiation weapons are in the Energy Research and Development Administration portion of the public works money bill now before the Senate.
President Carter wants Congress to approve the production money, though he has yet to decide whether that production will go ahead. President Ford approved building the new neutron weapons in November, 1976, but Carter did not learn of the decision until news stories this month disclosed that fact.
Carter has said he will make his decision before Oc. 1.
Meanwhile, his Arms Control and Disarmament Agency has been asked by Sen. Claiborne Pell (D.R.I.) to produce a statement, required by law, outlining any impact the new weapon may have on arms control negotiations now underway.
Today's Senate vote will come on a motion by Sen. Mark O. Hatfield (R-Ore.) to delete the production funds for enhanced radiation.
Weighing in today will be Sen. II. John Heinz III (R-Pa.) who reportedly will be speaking against the neutron weapons and making every attempt to keep as much of the Senate session open as possible.
Heinz said the administration had failed to make any case for the development of the weapon, and urged the Senate to withold approval until the full implications are known.
In a speech prepared for delivery today Heinz asks:
"Are we being asked here to approve a nuclear weapon that is even more repugnant than usual, which is literally dehumanizing?"
He points out that the neutron bomb singles out people for destruction, "choosing to preserve buildings instead."
The arms control agency yesterday sent a draft impact statement to the White House on the neutron bomb. Pell asked that the impact statement be available for the Senate debate on the production money.