Department of State Atomic Energy Files

Memorandum of Meeting, by Mr. Donald F. Carpenter, Deputy to the Secretary of Defense (Forrestal) on Atomic Energy Matters1

top secret

Memorandum of meeting at 11 a. m., 12 August, with the following in attendance:

  • Senator Vandenberg
  • Senator Hickenlooper
  • Secretary Forrestal
  • Dr. V. Bush
  • D. F. Carpenter

The meeting was called at Senator Hickenlooper’s request to discuss exchange of information on atomic energy with Canada and the United Kingdom. Senator Hickenlooper stated that at the time this matter was reviewed with Senator Vandenberg and himself last December it was understood that information would be exchanged in 3 areas. Now, he finds that exchange is proceeding in 9 areas.

Dr. Bush advised that this was not an expansion, but a more clearly defined breakdown of the previously contemplated exchange.

[Page 735]

Senator Hickenlooper stated that it was his understanding that England’s primary activity was to be along the lines of power production, and there was no indication of their entering into weapon production. He now finds that they are actively engaged in the production of plutonium, which could mean nothing to him but the production of weapons.

Dr. Bush stated that it was well known to everyone last December that England was already engaged in experimental work on plutonium and intended to continue, and that the British Government had previously advised that they were working towards the production of atomic weapons, therefore the recent information was of no surprise to him. D. F. Carpenter advised that in the allocation for raw materials last December it was clearly stated that certain quantities were anticipated for plutonium piles in England, and that this is a matter of record.

Senator Hickenlooper stated that he had just today received information that Dr. Cyril Smith2 had been sent to England to exchange information on certain topics, and his instructions as set forth in a letter from Dr. J. B. Fisk to Dr. Cyril Smith dated July 26, 1948,3 included exchange of information on the “basic metallurgy of plutonium.” He felt that this was definitely weapon information, and there was no possible justification for its exchange under agreed upon procedures.

Dr. Bush and D. F. Carpenter agreed that it should not be included in the exchanges under Area 9.4

It was pointed out that under the law it was clearly indicated that national security should be paramount, and further that the exchange of scientific and technical information is encouraged. Exchange of information for industrial purposes, however, is prohibited until satisfactory international controls are established.

It was recognized that the exchange of “scientific and technical information” can be interpreted very broadly.

It was recognized that any exchange of information on scientific or technical matters on atomic energy would aid the British in some degree in their activities in the production of weapons, and that since we know that they are engaged in production of plutonium, probably for weapons, we must recognize that any exchange will be beneficial to them, at least in some degree. This was generally recognized.

[Page 736]

D. F. Carpenter pointed out that the information which we would secure would well be beneficial to us. He stated that at the present time we desired information from the British and Canadians on the subjects of separation chemistry and heavy water pile operations and on several other subjects which would be of value to us.

It was generally recognized that this type of information would be of value to us and is desirable.

The question was raised as to the type of control that we had over the exchange of this information. D. F. Carpenter advised that we had already started in operation a procedure where the Military Liaison Committee would be advised in advance of any proposed contacts, would receive full information on the proposed agenda and the personnel making the contact, that we would review the agenda and file objections where they were indicated, also that we would undertake to send our own representatives where it seemed desirable to do so, and that we would discuss the results of the trip with the people involved immediately afterwards. It was felt that this would give the National Military Establishment adequate assurance of the proper conduct during these contacts.

Dr. Bush advised that up until recently he has been advised by the Commission of the explicit interchanges to be conducted, and he found them to be within the defined areas.

D. F. Carpenter stated that the extent of the contacts has been accelerating. It started out rather gradually and has just recently become so extensive as to require definite control procedures.

Senator Vandenberg indicated that he felt the responsibility of the Military Liaison Committee was clearly established under the law and that their authority should be exercised in this connection and that the proposed procedures seemed satisfactory.

Senator Vandenberg asked if it was necessary to double check the Commission in all these matters, asking if we have the type of Commission that requires double checking. Dr. Bush and D. F. Carpenter both indicated that they felt that in this area exchange of information had been carried on satisfactorily and that the proposed exchange of plutonium metallurgy was the first indication of exchange beyond the designated areas.

It was stated that procedures were recognized last January for the allocation of raw materials and for the exchange of certain areas of technical information. A refusal on our part to continue the exchange of technical information described within these areas would probably lead to ill will and might serve to open up the whole subject of allocation of materials and resurrect any prior misunderstandings which may have existed. This would be undesirable.

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Mr. Forrestal stated that it was his understanding that at the meeting of the American Members of the Combined Policy Committee last November,5 our primary objective was to secure raw materials. We did not want to see a large scale atomic energy plant located in the British Isles, but that if we could secure these objectives and if there were substantial useful information which we could obtain from the British, then we should go ahead with the exchange.


We should continue to exchange information within the 9 areas approved in the Modus Vivendi which were established on the advice of scientific and technical individuals who gave assurance that exchange within these areas would be to mutual benefit and that such exchange would not be giving to others substantial information on weapons.
The Military Liaison Committee would maintain sufficiently close contact with the exchange of technical information to insure the National Military Establishment that the procedures are followed and are not detrimental to the responsibilities of the National Military Establishment.
Although it is recognized that manufacture of plutonium will probably be commenced in England, we should attempt to influence England to have actual bomb production carried on in Canada rather than in England.

D. F. Carpenter phoned Mr. Sumner Pike, Acting Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, at 3:00 P. M., 12 August, advising of the objection to exchange of information with the British on basic metallurgy of plutonium. Mr. Pike stated that this had already come to his attention and that he had already sent two cables to Dr. Cyril Smith in England instructing him to withhold exchange on this item. Mr. Pike was not certain that this exchange might not already have commenced.6

D[onald] F. Carpenter
  1. Carpenter was Chairman of the Military Liaison Committee to the United States Atomic Energy Commission, which had been established by the Atomic Energy Act of 1946 and consisted of representatives of the National Military Establishment. The Committee was charged with providing liaison between the NME and the USAEC on military application of atomic energy, including manufacture, use, and storage of bombs, the allocation of fissionable material for military research, and control of information relating to military application. The committee also served as the primary staff agency of the Secretary of Defense on atomic energy matters.
  2. Metallurgist; Member of the General Advisory Committee of the United States Atomic Energy Commission.
  3. Not printed.
  4. “Area 9” refers to the 9th point of the report of the Sub-group on technical cooperation, approved by the Combined Policy Committee at its meeting of January 7, 1948. Point 9 specified that there would be exchange of information regarding general research experience with low power reactors at certain laboratories in the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada.
  5. For the Minutes of the Meetings of the American Members of the Combined Policy Committee, November 5, 24, and 26, 1947, see Foreign Relations, 1947, vol. i, pp. 852, 866, and 870, respectively.
  6. Dr. Smith had not yet consulted with British scientists at Harwell. For additional information on his visit, see Hewlett and Duncan, pp. 289–293.