Defense Secretary Richard B. Cheney met yesterday with nuclear weapons experts to discuss their concerns about the safety of a nuclear-tipped, short-range missile deployed on strategic bombers, but Cheney made no decision about withdrawing the weapons from service, his spokesman said.
The 90-minute Pentagon meeting began with a presentation by directors of the three U.S. nuclear weapons laboratories about risks associated with the continued deployment of Short-Range Attack Missile-As, or SRAMs, on "alert" B-52, B-1, and FB-111 bombers -- those ready for takeoff on short notice.
Earlier this week, the directors told a Senate committee of their concern that accidental aircraft fires would cause the SRAMs to explode, dispersing dangerous radioactive materials from the cores of associated nuclear warheads. They said the weapons should be withdrawn and put into storage.
The presentation provoked a "good discussion," according to one official. Those attending included Energy Secretary James D. Watkins, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Colin L. Powell and senior Air Force officials.
"I can't predict when or whether a decision will be made," said Defense Department spokesman Pete Williams. Cheney departed yesterday afternoon for Wyoming, his home state, to deliver a series of commencement speeches, and will not return to Washington until late next week.