A provision in the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty allowing reuse of nuclear warheads and guidance mechanisms -- a point of contention in the first two days of Senate hearings on the treaty -- was pushed primarily by the United States, not the Soviet Union, U.S. officials said yesterday.
The provision was drafted in part to ease an impending shortage of nuclear materials for new U.S. weapons, and to safeguard secret information about their design, the officials said.
The Reagan administration is also considering reusing the warheads from INF missiles on new, shorter-range nuclear systems for Europe, but Congress has not authorized the systems.
The controversy erupted dramatically yesterday, as Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) asked why the treaty does not eliminate "the part of nuclear weaponry that kills people and destroys property."
The treaty demands instead that all parts of the medium- and shorter-range nuclear missiles and launchers besides "warhead devices" and "guidance elements" be burned, crushed, flattened or destroyed by explosion, all under observation by U.S. and Soviet inspectors. Each side is allowed to remove the warheads and guidance devices before these inspections begin.
Sen. John Glenn (D-Ohio) said Monday during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing that "I found an appalling number of people I talked to . . . who were not aware that this treaty does not destroy one single nuclear explosive device."
Secretary of Defense Frank C. Carlucci responded that "this basically was done at our behest."
Alluding to a shortage of nuclear materials such as plutonium and uranium that has been projected by the Reagan administration for the 1990s, Carlucci said, "It is clearly in our interest to be able to retain" the nuclear warheads from the 859 Pershing IA, Pershing II and ground-launched cruise missiles (GLCM) to be destroyed under the INF Treaty.
U.S. officials and independent experts said the administration's projection of a shortage in nuclear materials stems in part from environmental and safety concerns that last year caused the administration to close two nuclear reactors used to produce these materials and to lower power levels of the three remaining U.S. military production reactors.
Carlucci cited "the problems we have in manufacturing special nuclear material," and also suggested that the Soviet Union could now produce new nuclear materials more readily than the United States.
Maynard W. Glitman, chief U.S. negotiator in the INF talks, also told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday that it obviously "is not possible to take a sledgehammer and smash the front end of a nuclear missile because nobody wants to be around when that nuclear material is spread about."
Glitman was referring to the health risks of exposure to radioactive nuclear materials in the warheads.
Glitman added that if the warhead was required to be destroyed under inspection by the other side, "you'd be giving them information on bomb designs."
U.S. officials said another reason, unmentioned at the hearings, is that the United States is considering using Pershing II and GLCM warheads in new short-range Lance and air-to-surface nuclear missiles that are under study by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization for deployment in Western Europe.
"We have just begun to study" this potential reuse of the warheads, said Paul Brown, an assistant associate director for arms control at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, one of the nation's two nuclear weapons design facilities.
Brown and other officials said neither U.S. nor Soviet warheads could simply be "rebolted" to weapons that are not covered by the INF agreement, as some Senate treaty critics suggested. The warheads will instead have to be taken apart and the components repackaged before used with other weapons, the officials said.