Department of State Atomic Energy Files

Memorandum by the Commanding General, Manhattan Engineer District (Groves), to the Under Secretary of State (Acheson)

top secret
In accordance with my promise of this morning, I have prepared this paper which you should read along with my earlier memorandum of today66 before you hold your discussion with Lord Halifax.
In view of the limited supply of raw materials from proven ore sources, the British are anxious to build up stockpiles to meet a three-year requirement for their proposed plutonium piles and uranium-separation plants. They estimate this requirement to be 5400 tons of contained U3O8. Our present requirements, to maintain present operating scales and to provide for such contingencies as process improvement and additional research, are 3060 tons for 1946 and 230 tons per month thereafter. Since the present estimate of proven high grade reserves in the Belgian Congo is approximately 7700 tons, it is obvious that the British program cannot be carried out without effecting a shut-down of our own plants in about two years.
From the point of view of joint American-British security, it would appear to be inadvisable to curtail our capacity for producing atomic bombs in order to permit the building up of stockpiles of uranium ore in England. Moreover, it would be economically wasteful not to take advantage of the productive capacity of the costly, complex, and highly integrated investment which the Manhattan District represents. It would be even more wasteful to attempt to duplicate our plants in England when, admittedly, there are not sufficient foreseeable [Page 1241] reserves of high grade raw material to satisfy even bur own requirements for the next three or four years.
Another question which arises is the military advisability of constructing large-scale plants in the United Kingdom. It is a foregone conclusion that, in the event of any future war, such plants most certainly would be neutralized, if not completely destroyed, during the first few days of hostilities because of their strategically poor location. It would appear to be much more advisable, if the British are to build any such plants, that they be located in such a place as not to render them susceptible of immediate destruction by the enemy. Canada, for instance, appears to be a more desirable location from the standpoint of military security.
Since the Congo is at the present time the only commercially-exploitable source of uranium ore, the desire of the British to share the output on a 50–50 basis is not in consonance with the atomic energy program as a whole. That the United States made by far the major contribution to the success of the program is not disputable. In spite of all the discussions about the commercial application of atomic energy, its overwhelming importance for many years to come will be its use as a military weapon. The United States, therefore, is still continuing to produce atomic bombs which, if they are ever to be used, would be used against a common enemy. Commercial application of atomic energy can come only when international control has been definitely assured. Our present predominance in the military atomic energy field will undoubtedly help to bring about such international control. Such stockpiles as the British intend to build up may well be utilized for commercial application at that time. A decision to divide the raw materials on a 50–50 basis would, in effect, be penalizing the United States for using its raw material to insure peace, while permitting the British to stockpile their raw material for future peaceful uses.
Turning over to the British of stockpiles of raw material, as well as information on our scientific and technological developments of the past four years, will materially alter the atomic energy situation as it exists today. As long as we have expectations or hopes that the United Nations Organization will attempt to achieve a solution to the problem of control of atomic energy, it seems a mistake to weaken the hands of the United States in securing a satisfactory solution to the problem by strengthening the hands of any other nation including Great Britain, as to do so will make our task of achieving a satisfactory solution much more difficult.
L. R. Groves
  1. Supra.