Department of State Atomic Energy Files

The Chairman of the Joint Congressional Committee on Atomic Energy (McMahon) to the Secretary of State

Dear Dean: Enclosed is a copy of a top secret memorandum which we have prepared on the suggested proposals regarding Great Britain and Canada.

No notes were made as to the proposals when they were read. We have tried to put them down as we remember them.

I am sending the memorandum to you, with the hope that it might be helpful in connection with the conference on Wednesday.

With kindest regards,

Sincerely yours,


Memorandum Prepared by the Joint Congressional Committee on Atomic Energy

top secret

Summary of Proposals to Britain and Canada

The parties will agree to an atomic energy ratio whereby the combined British and Canadian enterprise would not exceed 10 per cent of the size of our entire enterprise.
Raw materials, not only from the Congo but from all other portions of the world to which the three nations have access (including their own territories) would be allocated on the same basis—that is, at least 90 per cent to the United States.
It would be established as a principle that production facilities are to be concentrated in the Western Hemisphere—that is, in the United States or Canada.
The British would continue to operate production facilities located on their home islands for which commitments have already been made (i.e., the two powerful reactors which are expected to start production of fissionable material in 1950). Mr. Acheson conceded that ideally the British would dismantle the plants now almost completely finished and transfer their activities in Canada; but he added that this desideratum is impractical and could never be achieved. Accordingly, he emphasized that the important objective now is to persuade the British not to make additional commitments on their home islands.
All nuclear components of British-made weapons would be stored in the U.S. or Canada, except to the extent that the common war plans of the two countries dictate storage in Britain.
In exchange for our receiving 90 per cent of the available raw materials; in exchange for acceptance of the principle that new production facilities will be located in the Western Hemisphere; in exchange for agreement that British nuclear components will likewise be stored in the Western Hemisphere—in exchange for these concessions, we would agree to share weapons information with the British and Canadians. This sharing would be unlimited and nothing would be held back.
The three countries would agree not to tell any other nation the information which they share. All members of the British Common-wealth (except Canada) would be among the nations excluded. This latter point has some significance in view of the fact that New Zealand has shown unusual interest in atomic energy and is now avidly seeking information. However where assistance in basic research and in the development of particle accelerators and suchlike matters could be made available without any significant chance of the recipient’s progressing more rapidly toward atomic weapons, help could be given to any nation outside the Soviet orbit.
The three countries would commonly endeavor to secure appropriate air bases for the delivery of atomic weapons in case of need.

[Page 488]

Possible Comments, Pro and Con

Pro Con
1. Since British scientists under Chadwick worked at Los Alamos during the war, they already know vital weapon secrets. Britain will have the bomb within four years and probably less, whether or not we help her. Our divulgment of weapons information to the English would, at most, save them only 1½ years of time before they acquire their first bomb. 1. Why do anything to advance the date when Britian will acquire bombs? If we tell the British all we know, Russia will have one more “window” in which to peer for atomic data. Moreover, English scientists have contacts with the French group, headed by the notorious Joliot-Curie. Also, what about communist sympathizers like P. M. S. Blackett1 among the British themselves?
2. Today, we have little control over what the British tell other countries, nor do we have the benefit of all the bright ideas which their smart scientists generate. They might be first to blueprint a workable thermonuclear “super-bomb”. Under our proposals, they would tell no one what they know except Canada and ourselves, and American technical genius would assure that we translated their bright ideas into practical use before any other country. 2. Britain did not become known as “perfidious Albion” for nothing. She might use her bombs as a threat against both America and Russia, in an effort to stay neutral. Any data which we tell British scientists might fertilize their minds and enable them to achieve results otherwise impossible. Atomic facilities located in Britain would lie within range of Soviet airborne troops. Can we, in addition, overlook the possibility of a communist revolution in Britain?
3. Our proposals require that British-made bombs be stored in Canada (except as common Anglo-American war plans dictate storage elsewhere). Do we really care where bombs are made, so long as they are safely stored in [Page 489]our hemisphere—far from Soviet paratroops? Britain could hardly use bombs stored closer to us than to her as a threat backing up an attempt to stay neutral. She does not stand to gain much from our plan. 3. Economically Britain’s back is against the wall. She depends heavily upon us for Marshall Plan aid. Why should she want to make fissionable material when she cannot make enough bread for her people? Why should we indirectly support the British atomic project? Every penny spent on it means that Britain needs so much more American aid. (The Committee staff cannot ascertain how much Britain spends annually on atomic energy. A guess is $50 million.)
4. The American proposals tie in with our general policy of closest collaboration with Britain. The Marshall Plan should not be used as a club to extract one-sided concessions from her. Besides, she wields great influence over the Congo and South Africa, our most important present and future sources of vitally needed ore. 4. Would it not be wiser to locate all production facilites in North America, with British-owned plants in Canada and with a certain number of bombs held “in trust” for English use? Why risk damage to our common atomic enterprise by locating part of it in England within easy reach of Russian bombers? Can’t the British make this one concession in return for the Marshall Plan?
5. The time to have demanded that Britain locate all atomic plants in Canada was two or three years ago. Today the British have two powerful production reactors almost ready to operate; and in view of English pride, dismantling of these reactors is impossible. Hence, the important goal now is to persuade Britain that Canada is the best location for all her future plants. However, ought we not to feel glad that England is about to make bombs? Our weapons, plus hers, would damage any enemy more than ours alone. 5. We hope to avoid war. By distributing atomic knowledge more widely, we would increase the chance that Russia will learn some of it. Thus, we would strengthen Russia and thereby magnify the danger of war. We can obtain all the uranium we need by threatening to reduce the Marshall Plan unless Britain cooperates. Furthermore, do not dollars carry more weight with the Belgians and South Africans than British influence? A communist claim that we are using the Marshall Plan to impair the sovereignty of others is not to be feared; for the communists will make this claim whatever we do.
  1. Langworthy Professor of Physics, University of Manchester; author of Military and Political Consequences of Atomic Energy (London: Turnstile Press, 1948).