The House yesterday overwhelmingly defeated by an 293 to 88 vote an amendment that called for a halt in production of components for neutron warheads.
But in debate, Rep. Samuel S. Stratton (D-N.Y.), a ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, declared the United States was "a long way from any kind of deployment" to Western Europe of the new generation of low-yield nuclear artillery shells and Lance missile warheads.
The neutron debate tood place during consideration of the Department of Energy's fiscal 1982 defense authorization bill, which contains a record $5.06 billion for next year's development, testing and production of nuclear weapons.
The bill, itself, was subsequently approved by voice vote.
Although the measure contains funds for a wide variety of nuclear weapon activities, including $40 million for early production facilities to start on the new MX missile warhead, the major debate on the measure focused on the controversial neutron warheads.
These short-range shells and Lance missile warheads, called enhanced radiation weapons by the Pentagon, produce radiation rather than heat and blast as their main kill mechanism and thus cause less collateral damage on a battlefield. Their production was deferred by President Carter in 1978, after protests against their deployment in the NATO countries where they were to be based.
Rep. Ted Weiss (D-N.Y.), author of the amendment to halt production of neutron components, said deployment of such weapons "in Europe would raise tremendous and unnecessary risks in the event of war there." He also said the Soviets would retaliate against them "with full-scale weapons of larger size" and such an exchange could lead to "full-scale nuclear war."
Stratton, chairman of the Armed Services subcommittee that approved the weapons production bill, said the neutron debate was "distorted" in part because "Soviet propaganda had convinced people that neutron weapons were more horrendous" than the bigger Russian SS-20 medium-range missiles that threaten Western Europe with much larger warheads.
Stratton declared that President Reagan has yet to make a decision on whether to produce neutron weapons but that "we would be negligent if we did not manufacture the components so they could be quickly assembled if they were needed."
Stratton said his participation in a recent NATO meeting convinced him the neutron weapons are a long way from deployment because the "people of Europe are rejecting them," primarily due to Soviet propaganda.
For almost 20 minutes, a handful of Democrats discussed the building of nuclear weapons before Rep. Toby Moffett (D-Conn.) pointed out that there were "maybe only 20 members on the floor" for this "debate over priorities."
The bill also contained funds for continuing production, begun under the Carter administration, of a new warhead for the Minuteman III landbased ICBM, the Trident I submarine-launched missile, and a new group of tactical bombs.