Huge cutback due for nuclear weapons effort

December 17, 1991|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- Nearly a half-century after a secret atomic experiment led to the development of a mammoth government nuclear weapons industry, the Bush administration announced plans yesterday to slash the complex to four production plants in the South and Midwest and a test site in Nevada.

The new configuration means that an enterprise that once produced 5,000 to 6,000 nuclear warheads a year will, by 1996, be mainly responsible for maintaining the shrinking stockpiles and cleaning up the pollution it produced, Energy Secretary James D. Watkins said.

The administration's plans were made public at a news conference in which Mr. Watkins, who as chief of naval operations under President Ronald Reagan presided over one of the largest nuclear arms buildups in history, almost eagerly described how he and President Bush were now responding to the question neither expected to be asked, "What if we win the Cold War?"

Mr. Watkins said the collapse of the Soviet Union, the destruction of the Berlin Wall and Mr. Bush's initiative in September to dismantle thousands of nuclear weapons in the U.S. arsenal diminished the need for a far-flung nuclear weapons industry.

"Nobody likes nuclear bombs," he said. "We want to get rid of the nuclear complex to the extent we can."

Under the plan outlined by Mr. Watkins, weapons plants in Florida and Ohio would be closed, and the Rocky Flats plant near Denver would probably never produce materials for nuclear bombs again. A uranium processing plant in Idaho also faces closing.

Despite the planned closings, Mr. Watkins said, total employment would remain about the same as it is now, at 57,000 workers.

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