Atomic Energy Files, Lot 57 D 688

Memorandum of Conversation, by the Chief of the Office of Special Projects, United States Atomic Energy Commission (Hall)1

top secret

Subject: Conversations with Pierre Ryckmans, Commissioner for Atomic Energy in Belgium

Participants: Pierre Ryckmans, Gordon Dean, C. E. Steel, John A. Hall

On Friday morning, June 15, 1951, at 10:30 Mr. Pierre Ryckmans came to Mr. Dean’s office to hold an informal meeting with Mr. Dean and Mr. Steel, First Minister of the British Embassy, in order to [Page 737] attempt final agreement on the question of the Belgium tax on uranium.

Mr. Dean stated that he appreciated Mr. Ryckmans’ concern for safeguarding the interests of the Belgian Congo and the Belgian people, and, particularly, the political problem which existed on this subject in Belgium. Mr. Dean said that the United States also had a persistent problem of its own, namely, to justify constantly before Congress the expenditure of the peoples’ money. Uranium was not a normal commodity and, in point of fact, it was the crucial ingredient for the U.S. atomic energy program which has as its basic objective the development of atomic weapons which now and in the future will be the primary bulwark for the defense of the western democracies. Thus, in discussing a tax on Congo uranium, it was important to bear in mind the present future contribution of the United States tax payers towards the millions, and, in fact, billions, spent to produce this weapon.

Mr. Steel stated that his government shared the views expressed by Mr. Dean and while, undoubtedly, the United States would bear the greater share of the costs on this material, because the major portion of the material would come to the U.S., the United Kingdom also, in this period of austerity, had a continuing problem to justify before Parliament the expenditure of money.

Mr. Ryckmans said that he appreciated our problem but he felt that the welfare of the Belgian Congo should not be forgotten.

Mr. Dean then stated that it was his hope that at this meeting a final figure could be considered and that, from the standpoint of the Commission the final figure was $12 million, calculated on the basis of an increase in the existing tax which would provide additional revenue to Belgium of $12 million.

Mr. Ryckmans then asked what this meant in terms of cents per pound and it was identified that the present tax was 101 francs per kilo, which is $0.91 per pound. On the basis of an assumed production of 10,000 tons through the life of the contract, namely, February 1956, $12 million would mean an increase in francs from 101 to 167 or $0.91 to $1.51 per pound.

Mr. Dean emphasized that if more uranium were produced, the revenue would go up accordingly and if production decreased, the revenue then would decrease proportionately.

Mr. Ryckmans then raised several questions. Firstly, if the United Kingdom and the United States made a decision to utilize Congo material for commercial purposes, would the Belgian government be bound not to use this material for commercial purposes until the United States and the United Kingdom agreed?

Mr. Dean stated that he was sure the United Kingdom and the United States, after consultation with the Belgians, would certainly [Page 738] agree to a liberal interpretation of the existing article 9b of the international arrangement.2 Mr. Dean said that in any event such a decision was some time off and probably would come after termination of the present contract.

Mr. Steel said that he would be happy to refer this question to London, however, he was sure that the British government shared Mr. Dean’s views on this point.

Mr. Ryckmans then asked what was the status of the proposed amendment to the Atomic Energy Act.

Mr. Dean stated that it was still under discussion in the Executive Departments but it was still the desire and objective of the Commission to develop an amendment which would provide a more flexible position for the Commission in matters such as our relationship with Belgium.

Mr. Ryckmans then asked if the Atomic Energy Act applied equally to the United Kingdom and Belgium.

Mr. Dean stated that it did in an important sense. The present cooperation with the United Kingdom and Canada stemmed from the war-time partnership which developed a common body of classified information relating principally to the joint effort in the development of the weapon. A limited cooperation is presently in effect now with the United Kingdom and Canada. This cooperation is related in part to the common knowledge developed during the war-time experience, however, it does not include the highly classified information relating to the production of fissionable material and weapon research and development. Thus, in the sense referred to above, the Atomic Energy Act quite definitely applies equally to the United Kingdom and Belgium.

Mr. Ryckmans then asked if in a happier, more peaceful day when the necessity for atomic weapons was no longer so great, could Belgium discuss the possibility of procuring fissionable material from the United States.

Mr. Dean stated that he appreciated the question and while he could make no commitment on this point because a peaceful period appeared to be for many years hence, he was sure that the United Kingdom and the United States would be willing to discuss this problem at that time.

Mr. Ryckmans said that he would report to his government and felt that the offer of $12 million would provide a basis for concluding this subject. Mr. Dean suggested and Mr. Steel concurred that when Mr. Ryckmans received the approval of his government that he be in touch with Mr. Hall in order that a drafting committee could re-examine the [Page 739] proposed joint communiqué on this subject which could be presented at a concluding formal meeting at a later date.

  1. The source text was transmitted by Hall to Arneson on June 20.
  2. Section 9 (b) of the Memorandum of Agreement of September 26, 1944, reads as follows: “The Belgian Government undertake that, in the event of their contemplating the use of such ores as a source of energy, they will so use them only after consultation and in agreement with the Governments of the United States of America and of the United Kingdom.” For full text of the agreement, see Foreign Relations, 1944, vol. ii, pp. 10291030.