Department of State Atomic Energy Files

Memorandum of Conversation, by Mr. David H. McKillop of the Office of the Under Secretary of State (Webb)

top secret

Subject: Meeting with H. Freeman Matthews, U.S. Ambassador to Sweden

Participants: Ambassador H. Freeman Matthews, U.S. Ambassador to Sweden
Mr. Carroll Wright [Wilson], AEC General Manager
Mr. Benjamin Hulley, Chief, Division NOE
Dr. Howard Robinson, Scientific Attaché, Stockholm
Mr. R. Gordon Arneson—U
Mr. D. H. McKillop—U
[Page 465]

Mr. Arneson opened the meeting by outlining to Ambassador Matthews the background of UK–US–Canadian cooperation in the atomic field and explaining the present status of the proposed negotiations for closer collaboration among the three countries, explaining that the chief question at the present time was one of timing and determining the type of Congressional action that might be called for in sanctioning an agreement with the British and Canadians. It was the general consensus that it would be best to clear away the Atlantic Pact and Military Aid Bill before formally confronting Congressional leaders with this atomic project.

Mr. Matthews agreed, and inquired if strong Congressional opposition was expected. Mr. Arneson replied that considerable opposition might develop. Mr. Matthews then remarked that there would probably be less opposition if the British could be persuaded to concentrate their efforts in the production of atomic weapons in Canada. He then inquired whether the British were eager to enter into negotiations and was informed by Mr. Arneson that they indeed were knocking loudly at the door. In view of this situation, Mr. Matthews remarked that it was quite apparent to him now that formulation of atomic policy with reference to non-CPC countries would have to await the outcome of negotiations with UK and Canada. Mr. Arneson assured him that his understanding was quite correct and that furthermore, in discussing our attitude towards the UK and Canada, it was generally felt by those discussing the problem that a rather stiff policy toward other countries was called for. This attitude, however, had not yet been formalized and possibly the British would eventually exert pressure toward some softening of it. Then, too, there might be variations in response to the necessity of obtaining possible advantages from a particular country. Intelligent self-interest would be the determining factor. Mr. Matthews concurred in the wisdom of these views.

Mr. Wilson thought that the nub of the problem arose from attempting to achieve a balance between a purely negative policy and that of rendering real help of a non-dangerous kind. He mentioned the field of particle research as perhaps a possibility in this connection.

Dr. Robinson expressed the view that the Swedes were not interested in the production of plutonium for military purposes, but he did think that the Swedish Military was playing with the idea of some sort of radioactive spray or dust. Mr. Wilson stated that he did not think this was a very helpful avenue and thought it might be a kindness to the Swedes to intimate this fact to them. He then mentioned the fact of the French pile and the danger of driving Swedes and other Scandinavians into the hands of the French if a purely negative policy were [Page 466]followed. Mr. Matthews stated that he hoped that Randers1 and other Norwegian scientists realized the danger of supplying Joliot Curie2 with information which would undoubtedly be passed on promptly to the Russians. He thought, too, that the Swedes were perhaps a little too trusting of Kowarski.3 In view of the close defense arrangements with the French that presumably would grow out of the Atlantic Pact, he inquired whether the French might not also demand that we cooperate with them in the atomic field. Mr. Arneson stated that if the French did raise this question, we were prepared to give them a very definite “No” and that was one reason why we did not wish to connect British negotiations with the Atlantic Pact or the Military Aid Bill.

Mr. Matthews stated he was glad to hear that, and inquired whether there was any means of putting leverage on the French to clear their atomic house. Mr. Robinson said that he had heard rumors that the French were going to force Joliot Curie out but, in that event, he presumably would go to the Soviet Union. In this connection, Mr. Arneson remarked that Joliot Curie’s presence in Paris made it easier to say “No” to any French request for cooperation in the atomic field. He thought that even with Joliot Curie out of the picture in France, it still would not be safe to enter into very close atomic relationships with the French, since that whole field in France was rather badly tainted with Sovietism. Mr. Matthews asked if we were attempting to slow down the French program, to which Mr. Arneson replied that we were doing what we could, although the possibility for any direct action was rather limited. Dr. Robinson remarked that at least we should try to prevent Joliot Curie from contaminating the Scandinavians. Mr. Arneson then remarked that one of the major difficulties in determining what help we could give non-CPC countries was due to our lack of knowledge as to what the Russians do and do not have in the atomic field.

Mr. Matthews inquired whether the Russians derived very much benefit from the German scientists which they had working for them in Russia. Mr. Wilson thought they probably had not obtained a great deal since, during the war, the Germans were very backward in their achievements in the atomic field.

Mr. Arneson asked Mr. Matthews for his views as to how the Swedes should be handled—whether or not we should pursue a rather tough attitude towards them in view of their non-membership in the Atlantic Pact or whether we should try to persuade them to tie up with the [Page 467]Norwegians. Mr. Matthews thought this question depended upon whether or not there would be any advantages to us from helping Sweden. Then, too, there was the possibility that the Swedish chances of success were so poor that we could afford to ignore their project completely. He thought, on the whole, they were not making terribly swift progress. He did think, however, that the Swedes were fairly good security risks and that they certainly would not knowingly help the Russians, and that any information that did seep through to the Soviet Union from the Swedes would result from their naïveté rather than any conscious desire to assist the Russians.

Dr. Robinson said that the Swedes, within five years, might possibly have extracted sufficient uranium oxide for a small experimental heavy water pile, provided they could get the heavy water from the Norwegians. He thought the Norwegians might do the same in three years. The Swedes would probably resort to graphite if they could not get heavy water and were, in fact, now experimenting with the purification of graphite. There, of course, existed the danger of results of their experiments reaching the Soviet Union, perhaps via France. He added that it was his understanding that the Norwegians had definitely gone to the French in connection with the extraction of five tons of uranium oxide. Mr. Wilson remarked that this was the danger of a too negative American policy vis-à-vis non-CPC countries.

Mr. Arneson asked Mr. Matthews whether there was any great Swedish pressure for American assistance in the atomic field. Mr. Matthews stated that he had sensed no particular pressure and that the Swedes were still busy absorbing some of the non-classified aid we had made available to them. Dr. Robinson, however, added that since Mr. Matthews had left Sweden, the Swedes had informally requested assistance in connection with the purification of uranium ore, Mr. Matthews thought, however, that any dealing with this request could be dragged out for some period of time.

Dr. Robinson asked Mr. Matthews if he would object to a joint Scandinavian atomic project, to which the Ambassador replied that he thought there were no special objections, provided the pile was located in Norway. Dr. Robinson stated that presumably the Norwegian pile would be located within the precincts of the Norwegian Military Base at Keller, about 20 miles north of Oslo. He thought perhaps the Norwegians might object to allowing the Swedes into this base, since Sweden was not a signatory of the Atlantic Pact. Mr. Matthews commented that he thought, on the whole, Soviet agents were more active in Norway than they were in Sweden.

Mr. Wilson asked Dr. Robinson how much real interest there was in atomic energy in Sweden and was told that interest was quite pronounced, [Page 468]even among the general public. He thought with the Swedes the question was a matter of prestige and keeping up with the Jones’. He said that the personal pressure behind the program exerted by Professors Swedberg and Sigbahn was also of significance in the development of the Swedish program. On the other hand, the personal jealousy existing between the two men was a factor in slowing down the program.

Dr. Robinson then brought up the point that the Swedes in future would probably switch from obtaining their isotopes in the United States to the UK. This was partly due to the much more lax British distribution requirements, but even more so to the cheaper shipping costs due to the proximity of the UK. Mr. Matthews remarked that the British were always inclined to be rather soft towards the Swedes as a method of enhancing their prestige. Mr. Arneson said that it perhaps would be well to raise the question with the British concerning their distribution standards, but not take up the matter with the Swedes.

Mr. Matthews remarked that the British Minister had been very cooperative in making joint approaches to the Swedes in atomic energy matters and that Mr. Matthews was keeping him informed of atomic developments from the American point of view. It was agreed that this collaboration should continue and the British kept informed both in Washington and in Stockholm.

With reference to the question of intelligence coordination, Mr. Matthews said that his Attachés in Stockholm were very cooperative in working their problems out through Howard Robinson. In Norway, he thought it would be a good idea not to continue the practice of having the Naval Attaché carry the main burden of reporting on atomic energy matters, and that First Secretary of Embassy Parsons would be a good man to help Villard4 with the political aspects of the situation. He thought Dr. Robinson would be able to furnish the necessary technical assistance.

Mr. Wilson inquired if there was any atomic energy activity in Denmark, to which Dr. Robinson replied that there was very little going on in this field there, largely due to the influence of Neils Bohr.

Dr. Robinson inquired to what extent we might help the Swedes in the field of protection against atomic warfare. Mr. Wilson thought aid in this field was quite legitimate and stated that a non-classified handbook on atomic weapon effects put out by AEC would be appearing soon.5 An abridged and more readable volume was also planned. [Page 469]These two publications had the approval of the Military Establishment, and Mr. Wilson did not think that any arguments against their publication from a security point of view would prevail. Hence, this handbook could be made available to Sweden. Dr. Robinson said such a handbook would be very welcome in Sweden, and that upon his return he would intimate to the Swedes that there was a possibility of their receiving a handbook of this type. Dr. Robinson was also informed that the Hopley Report6 on Civilian Defense contained a chapter on atomic warfare which would be of interest. Copies of this report will be made available to Dr. Robinson.

The meeting closed with assurances from Mr. Matthews that he would not object to Dr. Robinson making a tour of European capitals to assist our missions there in implementing export control programs in the atomic field.

  1. Prof. Gunnar Randers, Chief Scientist, Norwegian Defense Research Establishment.
  2. Prof. Frederic Joliot-Curie, director of the French atomic energy development program.
  3. Prof. Lew Kowarski, French nuclear scientist.
  4. Henry S. Villard, Counselor of the Embassy in Norway.
  5. In 1950, the United States Atomic Energy Commission released the publication Effects of Atomic Weapons (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1950).
  6. Reference is to the publication Civil Defense for National Security, issued by the Office of Civil Defense Planning, Russell J. Hopley, Director (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1948).