Atomic Energy Files, Lot 57 D 688

Memorandum of Conversation, by Mr. David H. McKillop of the Office of the Special Assistant to the Secretary of State (Arneson)

top secret

Subject: Call of Governor General Ryckmans1 on Assistant Secretary Perkins2 for Reopening Anglo-American-Belgian Atomic Energy Discussions3

  • Participants:

  • Belgians:
    • Governor-General
    • Pierre Ryckmans
    • Ambassador Silvercruys4
    • Professor de Hemptinne5
    • Attaché E. Harford
  • Department of State:
    • Assistant Secretary G. Perkins
    • Mr. R. Gordon Arneson
    • Mr. D. McKillop
  • Atomic Energy Commission:
    • Mr. J. Hall

After being introduced by Ambassador Silvercruys, Governor-General Ryckmans almost immediately inquired whether we had any new views regarding the proposed increase in the Belgian uranium export tax and was told by Mr. Perkins that we had not given much [Page 700] thought to this question pending receipt from the Belgians of justifying data.

Mr. Ryckmans stated that he thought increased revenue from uranium was justified in order to help meet expenditures connected with the following:

Belgian atomic energy program;
Belgian participation in a joint European nuclear physics project;
Advancement of the social and economic welfare of the Congo;
Military preparations for the defense of the Congo in general and of the Shinkolobwe uranium mine in particular.

He stated that present benefits to the Belgian Congo derived from uranium were in no way comparable to the strategic importance of uranium in the world today. He agreed that private profits should not accrue from uranium but that the Belgian Congo Government was entitled to tax benefits to be used for the welfare of the inhabitants of the area. In this connection, he pointed out that the Congo was a separate entity from Belgium although Belgium did have a legitimate interest to be considered since in the general mining concession to Union Miniere, it had been agreed that 50 percent of all minerals mined should be sent to Belgium. Belgium had, in fact, waived this stipulation in order that Allied requirements might be met, for which, however, she was entitled to some consideration.

Governor-General Ryckmans also stated that to meet the joint American-Belgian recommendations for increasing the defense of the uranium mine and the Congo generally, including the building of an airfield at Jadotville, military expenses would have to be greatly increased. Even the sending of a battalion of white troops involved according to Belgian standards a large sum of money.

Mr. Perkins pointed out that, in view of the considerable body of opinion in the United States that too many Europeans were expecting the United States to finance the military effort of Western Europe without corresponding economic sacrifices from the inhabitants, it might be very difficult to justify payments to Belgium to cover the cost of building up Congo defenses. Governor-General Ryckmans stated he realized this was true and that actually Belgium and the Congo would have to provide the money needed for military preparations.

Mr. Perkins also pointed out that uranium was a unique commodity which had no present significant commercial use and from which the United States derived no economic benefit, since it was being entirely used for military purposes in strengthening the defenses of the entire Western world. Therefore, he could not agree that the Congo Government should expect extraordinary benefits from uranium even in the [Page 701] form of taxes, the proceeds from which would be used for the welfare of the inhabitants.

Governor-General Ryckmans said he could not agree on this point, and tried to make an analogy between Congo uranium and Iranian oil. He also expressed the belief that the use of atomic energy for commercial purposes was not as remote as people might think.

Mr. Arneson remarked that there were conflicting opinions as to when atomic energy could be used for power purposes but that the general body of expert opinion was that it would not be for some time. In any case it was longer than had been anticipated at the time the Uranium Agreement of 1944 was signed and, therefore, section 9(a) of the Agreement had been delayed in coming into operation.6 In view of this fact and in keeping with the spirit of 9(a), we had offered certain technical assistance and expressed willingness to make a suitable financial contribution in order to help Belgium establish herself soundly in the nuclear physics field so that she would be in a position to benefit from 9(a) at the appropriate time. Accordingly, it had always been our understanding that this was the justifying basis for any assistance extended to Belgium at this time in connection with the Uranium Agreement.

Mr. Perkins stated that he thought the moot logical justification for increased revenues from uranium was based on the need for funds to support a Belgian atomic energy program and inquired whether the Belgians now had a specific program.

Professor de Hemptinne stated that the Belgians had decided to build a graphite 6,000 kw reactor at the cost of about $10,000,000 and modeled after the British BEPO. In this connection, he said Sir John Cockroft7 had informed Professor Ledrus8 that most of BEPO would soon be declassified, which would permit the Belgians sufficient information to build a similar pile.

He also said that the idea of constructing a green salts plant in the Congo had been shelved in favor of construction of a research plant in Belgium capable of producing 25 tons of uranium metal per year at a cost of about $15 per kilo. Governor-General Ryckmans indicated that the output would be made available to the United States in accordance with the Uranium Agreement of 1944.

Governor-General Ryckmans stated the entire program would probably cost about $16,000,000 within the next four years, of which $10,000,000 would be for the construction of a BEPO, $2,800,000 for [Page 702] general research and development through the Inter-University Committee, $1,200,000 for Belgian participation in a French-Italo-Swiss cosmotron project at Geneva and $2,000,000 for the construction of a pilot ore-refining plant in Belgium. The expenditures would average about $4,000,000 a year. This $4,000,000, of course, would not cover increased military expenses or social benefits to Congo inhabitants.

Governor-General Ryckmans thought that the present Communiqué9 would have to be revised in such way as to indicate that Belgium was receiving specific economic benefits from the sale of uranium. He felt in order to safeguard uranium production figures, that a lumpsum payment per year might be announced although actually revenues would be derived from increasing the export tax.

Mr. Perkins pointed out that the proposals Governor-General Ryckmans had made were, of course, of interest to the British who would have to participate in the discussions leading to a final agreement. Therefore, he proposed that a meeting be held as soon as possible which would include the British.10 He thought it would be extremely helpful at this meeting if the Belgian proposals and a description of their planned atomic energy program could be reduced to writing.

The meeting was then adjourned.

  1. Belgian Commissioner for Atomic Energy; former Governor General of the Belgian Congo.
  2. George W. Perkins, Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs.
  3. Documentation on previous discussions is included in material on atomic energy in Foreign Relations, 1949, volume i, and 1950, volume i.
  4. Baron Robert Silvercruys, Belgian Ambassador in the United States.
  5. Scientific Attaché, Belgian Embassy.
  6. For text of the Memorandum of Agreement Between the United States, the United Kingdom, and Belgium Regarding the Control of Uraniani, September 26, 1944, see Foreign Relations, 1944, vol. ii, pp. 10291030. Section 9(a) reads as follows: “In the event of the Governments of the United States of America and of the United Kingdom deciding to utilize as a source of energy for commercial purpose ores obtained under this agreement the said Governments will admit the Belgian Government to participation in such utilization on equitable terms.”
  7. Director of the British Atomic Energy Research Establishment.
  8. René Ledrus, Belgian nuclear physicist.
  9. Draft tripartite communiqué, November 1950, not printed.
  10. A tripartite meeting, the notes of which are not printed, occurred in Washington on March 14 (Atomic Energy Files, Lot 57 D 688). For the minutes of the tripartite meeting of April 5, see p. 713.