Atomic Energy Files, Lot 57 D 688

Minutes of the Meeting of the United States Members of the Combined Policy Committee, Washington, August 24, 1951, 2:50 p. m.

top secret



  • Secretary of State, Mr. Acheson
  • Deputy Secretary of Defense, Mr. Lovett
  • Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, Mr. Dean

By Invitation:

  • H. Freeman Matthews, Deputy Under Secretary of State
  • Robert LeBaron, Deputy to the Secretary of Defense on Atomic Energy Matters
  • General N. F. Twining, Vice Chief of Staff, U.S. Air Forces
  • Brig. Gen. H. B. Loper, Chief, Armed Forces Special Weapons Project
  • Marion W. Boyer, General Manager, Atomic Energy Commission
  • Harold L. Price, Acting General Counsel, Atomic Energy Commission
  • Colonel Kenneth E. Fields, Director, Division of Military Application, Atomic Energy Commission
  • Dumond Peck Hill, Acting Chief, Office of Special Projects, Atomic Energy Commission.


  • Joseph Chase (Acting)

The Committee had before it a tentative draft agenda (see Tab A),1 listing possible items for inclusion at a full CPC meeting scheduled [Page 756] for Monday, August 27, with a suggestion by the Secretariat that each item be examined with a view toward determining whether or not it should be included for consideration at the full CPC meeting and if so, what the United States position would be.

Item I, “Formally approve minutes of last two CPC meetings of September 20, 1949 and September 30, 1949”,2 was noted and approved for inclusion on the agenda for the full CPC meeting.

Item II, “Note and approve for inclusion in the minutes a Joint Secretariat paper3 recording CPC resignations and appointments that have occurred since the meeting of September 20, 1949”, was noted and approved for inclusion on the agenda for the full CPC meeting.

Item III, “Note and approve for inclusion in the minutes the interim allocations agreements for 1950 and 1951”,4 was noted and approved for inclusion on the agenda for the full CPC meeting.

Discussion on Item IV, “Proposals Relating to the Trial of the First British Atomic Weapon in U.S.A.”5 was opened by Mr. Acheson. He recalled that on August 2, 1951, Sir Oliver Franks proposed to him that a meeting of the Combined Policy Committee be held to consider a United Kingdom request for the United States to test its first atomic weapon. Sir Oliver had further stated that the United Kingdom desired a definitive answer on this request during the month of August in order that the United Kingdom might proceed with plans to test the weapon in Australia, should the United States reaction be negative.

Subsequently, Sir Oliver had indicated to Mr. Acheson that the United Kingdom request for a shallow water test, although desirable, was not a sine qua non. In a letter received from Mr. Lovett, and enclosing a copy of the United Kingdom proposals on the subject, the Department of Defense indicated support for the test on the understanding that no information on United States weapons would be made available to the United Kingdom (see Tab B).6 A letter had also been received from the Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission7 in which the Commission had approved the idea of conducting such a test as being in the national interest. It had also expressed its opinion that it was possible to set up such a test without disclosing highly sensitive United States weapons information but that, as a practical matter, it would appear impossible to conduct a test without [Page 757] some disclosure of Restricted Data. The letter also referred to a memorandum of July 19 from the Atomic Energy Commission to the Executive Secretary of the National Security Council,8 in which the Atomic Energy Commission requested an amendment to the Atomic Energy Act of 1946. Finally, the letter suggested that the problem of the United Kingdom test be discussed with the President as soon as possible with a view toward obtaining enabling legislation at this session of the Congress (see Tab C).

Summing up, Mr. Acheson stated that all present wanted to conduct the test but that the Commission desired enabling legislation in order that the test might be conducted within the law. Mr. Acheson asked Mr. Dean whether the Joint Congressional Committee had been approached on this matter and if so, would the Joint Committee be prepared to approve the test after it had been made clear to them that its conduct would be in the national interest. Would such approval be forthcoming or would the Joint Committee consider that legislation was necessary?

Mr. Dean replied that with the exception of the Chairman of the Joint Committee, he had not approached any other of its members. What would be required would be a complete briefing before a full meeting of the Committee in order to make clear to them that a change in the law was necessary in order to conduct this test and also to do a number of other things, all of which were in the national interest. Mr. Acheson asked whether the Joint Committee might not approve the test on its merits, wholly apart from the general problem of amending the Act. Mr. Dean replied that sounding out the Joint Committee and receiving its assent would not make a given transaction legal if the United Kingdom would receive Restricted Data in the process. Such an approach had been used successfully in the past, particularly for the irradiations in the Canadian pile, but in each case the Committee had been convinced, as was the Commission, that the amount of information that might be acquired would be de minimis. The information which would be involved under the United Kingdom test proposal would be weapons information. Weapons information could in no way fall under the heading of de minimis. Although Mr. Dean conceded that he did not believe any substantial or very significant information on United States weapons would be revealed, he did not see how 50 United Kingdom technicians could work together with United States technicians without the latter revealing more than they desired.

Mr. Lovett remarked that the Department of Defense conclusions might perhaps be based on an assumption that was not accurate. The three Services of the Department of Defense felt that it might be possible to conduct a test in such a manner that the United States [Page 758] would be getting information about the United Kingdom weapon without giving any United States weapons quid pro quo. This assumption is perhaps not warranted. Moreover, even the United Kingdom has admitted that their security is bad. The Department of Defense would be very reluctant to do anything that would involve disclosure of weapons information to the United Kingdom. He recalled that in the modus vivendi, weapons information is specifically excluded from exchange. The possibility of conducting the test with the United Kingdom military staff had an appeal, but if the risks involved took us into the weapons field and weapons systems, he could not go along with it. If, however, it were possible to conduct the test so as to circumscribe the congenial habits of scientists, and to limit the exchange of information to instrumentation and instrument readings, then it might be desirable to go to the Joint Congressional Committee in order to obtain their specific approval. It might even be possible to get clearance only from the two senior men on the Joint Committee, the member from the Senate and the member from the House, provided there was no disclosure of United States weapons information, and that the conduct of the test would come under the modus vivendi. It might then be handled as a military test. On the question of enabling legislation, Mr. Lovett foresaw much delay and difficulty. This attitude was based on three considerations, first, Fuchs, Maclean and other United Kingdom defections,9 second, present Congressional attitude toward Communism and atomic energy, and third, the general Congressional attitude toward any relaxation in security matters.

Mr. LeBaron stated that the Department of Defense had assumed and had told the United Kingdom that there would be no disclosure of United States weapons information in the conduct of the test. He said that Commissioner Glennan10 was present when he was approached in London by Lord Portal and Dr. Penney and knew that the British wanted to play a minor role in the test. Now it appears that United States weapons information had been interjected into the problem. Mr. Dean remarked that the Commission had considered the matter on the basis of the United Kingdom proposals which they had received only a short time ago. On that basis, it seemed inevitable that the United Kingdom would get some information. Perhaps the United Kingdom was asking for too much in this paper. Mr. LeBaron and Mr. Lovett conceded this point. Mr. Lovett remarked that he had [Page 759] understood that the test would be in effect a one-way street, where we would get information on the United Kingdom weapon and they would get none on ours.

Mr. Dean pointed out that before assuming any responsibility for conducting the test, the Commission would need to know many things about the United Kingdom weapon. Mr. LeBaron stated that he had sent from London some information on some of the points raised. This information was known to Mr. Glennan. For example, the United Kingdom planned to use plutonium and would have only a small quantity of it available at the time of the test. It was on this basis that it was felt that the bomb would not yield more than 30 kilotons. Furthermore, he had understood that only a few men would be sent by the British and that they would be insulated from our scientists. We would set off the United Kingdom bomb and tell them the two things that they had asked for. Mr. Dean pointed out that in the document before him, the British intended to send fifty technicians and six observers. He added that he had discussed the matter with Dr. Oppenheimer.11 Dr. Oppenheimer had agreed that such a test was desirable, but he added that the curiosity quotient would be tremendous among the United Kingdom and United States scientists and he did not see how one could prevent the disclosure of some weapons information. Furthermore, continued Mr. Dean, weapons effects measurements and weapons measurements involve very significant weapons information.

Mr. Lovett stated that what Mr. Dean had said altered greatly the military concept of what is necessary and required to conduct such a test. He could safely say that if the test involved the disclosure of significant weapons information, then the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Department of Defense would oppose it because of the security problem. He repeated that he was very concerned about United Kingdom security. He recalled that Lord Portal and Mr. Perrin12 were leaving the United Kingdom program, not for security reasons alone, but nonetheless, security implications were involved. The basic difficulty at this meeting was that the Department of Defense assumptions were different from those of the Atomic Energy Commission. He was prepared to withdraw the support of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and of Defense, since this support was based on a different set of understandings.

Mr. Dean said that the Atomic Energy Commission had analyzed the test problem and had considered four possible alternatives:

A full-scale joint test;
A limited cooperative test, as contained in the United Kingdom proposals;
A test conducted solely by the British; and
A test conducted solely by the United States.

The Commission’s conclusion was that Number 2 was the only logical solution, but since it would require a large number of United Kingdom personnel, and in view of the difficulty in restraining scientists from talking, it would appear that we could not carry it out without enabling legislation.

Mr. Lovett suggested limiting United Kingdom participation to six responsible scientists arid permitting them to do what is necessary to test Point (a) of their proposals. We would then test Points (b) and (c) and would give the United Kingdom only the results. Colonel Fields pointed out it is impossible to simply give a “number” result. The British would have to know certain background information and would have to discuss with us the interpretation of measurements in order to get anything meaningful. Mr. LeBaron stated that the United Kingdom merely wished to explode a weapon. The United Kingdom program was in a rather desperate shape. They did not have enough money and had no test range. All they wanted was to be able to say that they had built a bomb, exploded it, and that it had worked. Their only requirements were that they be permitted to check the tower to see that their bomb was on it and to check the firing circuits of the bomb.

Mr. Lovett stated that if Mr. LeBaron was correct, this is primarily a political and morale problem for the United Kingdom. If so, then it might be possible to modify the United Kingdom proposals in such a way that there would be no disclosure of Restricted Data or that the United Kingdom would get information only on what they could learn from their own weapon.

Mr. Lovett suggested that we tell the United Kingdom that we will not be ready to give them an answer by August 31 because, on the basis of the United Kingdom proposals, the Atomic Energy Commission believed that Restricted Data would be exchanged. However, we would be willing to modify the project in such a way as to permit us to conduct the test. If the United Kingdom were interested, we might be able to give them our answer in a couple of weeks.

Mr. Dean said he was ready to do this. Mr. Acheson suggested that we tell the British that we cannot perform the test as set forth in their memorandum and further, that we cannot give an answer in August on what we can do, but that if the British are willing to wait for about two weeks more, we would prepare a modification of their proposals so that a test might be conducted within the law.

Mr. Lovett and Mr. Dean agreed. Mr. Dean added that we must make it clear to the British that there is a considerable amount of [Page 761] information about the British weapon that we must get before we undertake the responsibility of the test. Mr. Acheson suggested that the full Combined Policy Committee meeting be held on Monday,13 at which time we would reluctantly refuse the United Kingdom proposals but at the same time would indicate to the United Kingdom that the Atomic Energy Commission and the Department of Defense would be willing to investigate a modification of the United Kingdom proposals. He asked Mr. Dean if we could tell the British that some kind of test was possible. Mr. Dean answered in the affirmative. Mr. Lovett and Mr Dean agreed that their technical experts, General Loper and Colonel Fields, should get together on this problem.

Mr. LeBaron then suggested that perhaps the Military alone could handle the problem without revealing scientific information, and that the test might be made by General Loper and the Armed Forces Special Weapons Project. This proposal was rejected by Mr. Dean, because the real question was not who conducted the test but whether it could be done within the law.

Mr. Acheson summarized that we should have a Combined Policy Committee meeting on Monday, indicate to the United Kingdom that we had studied the problem and that we had been informed by the Atomic Energy Commission that they were unable to agree to the test on the basis of the document submitted by the United Kingdom because it would inevitably involve the disclosure of Restricted Data to the British. Howe ver, we felt that perhaps the United Kingdom proposals could be revised in such a way as to make it possible for the Atomic Energy Commission and the Department of Defense to conduct the test within the law. This could be done in about ten days to two weeks. If the United Kingdom were willing to wait, we would proceed with the study. If not, then our answer would be “no”.

Mr. Dean then stated that he would like very much to receive the support of the Department of State and the Department of Defense for legislation to amend the Atomic Energy Act in accordance with his memorandum of July 19, 1951 to the Executive Secretary of the National Security Council (Tab D).14 He felt that such an amendment was essential because the Atomic Energy Commission was handicapped in not being able to initiate certain operations because of restrictions under the existing Act. Mr. Lovett asked whether this amendment would involve weapons information. Mr. Dean replied in the negative, pointing out that the language of the proposed amendment was permissive, although it was true that weapons information was not specifically excluded. He suggested that perhaps the Department of Defense would want to propose an amendment to the Commission’s amendment in [Page 762] order to exclude weapons information from any exchange. Mr. Lovett thought that the Department of Defense would like to do this, and recalled that in the modus vivendi, weapons information was specifically excluded from the exchange. Mr. LeBaron remarked that it was difficult to separate weapons from non-weapons information.

Mr. Dean argued that what was needed was at least an opportunity for the Departments of State and Defense and the Atomic Energy Commission to agree that certain things were in the national interest and also an opportunity to present their case. Mr. LeBaron remarked that the Department of Defense wants to hold weapons information very closely. Furthermore, weapons information should be defined broadly, and should be strictly controlled by the Military. Mr. Dean did not agree with this view. Reverting to the previous point, he cited as an illustration the case of Dr. Penney, who is a first-class man in this field. Under the existing law, we were not able to use his brains, we did not even have the possibility of discussing in a realistic way whether it would be worth-while to use him. As another example, Mr. Dean stated that Australia had discovered some important deposits of uranium ore and since they are willing to sell it to us, we would like to be able to give them information on how to enrich it. Mr. Lovett asked whether there was a security problem involved in passing such information on to the Australians from whom it might become known to the Soviets. Mr. Dean agreed that there was such a problem, but went on to say that we would have to weigh all factors in determining what we were to do. We would have to decide whether 500 tons of uranium a year coming into the United States was worth more to us than the possibility that a chemical process which we would make available to the Australians might become known to the Soviets. He repeated that he would like to have us in a position to make such determinations and to act upon them without violating the law.

Mr. Lovett then asked whether, if the Atomic Energy Act of 1946 had been in effect in 1942, we would have been able to invite Niels Bohr15 and others to help us in our program.

Mr. Dean stated that we would not have been able to do this, and Bohr, Fermi,16 Teller17 and others would not have been in our project.

Mr. Acheson felt that we could not get an amendment at this time, and certainly could not get one quickly. Mr. Lovett agreed. Mr. Dean stated that he believed an amendment was wise, but that timing was also important. It was his belief that he could get the unanimous approval of the Joint Congressional Committee to such an amendment. [Page 763] Mr. Acheson asked whether, if the proposed amendment were put to the Joint Committee, they would insist that in the amendment the word “informed” would be replaced by the words “secure the approval of” the Joint Congressional Committee. If they insisted upon this, would we be in a better position than we were now?

Mr. Dean stated that we would. At least we would then have a forum in which to discuss such matters and to make an exchange legal, if all were agreed on its necessity. He further stated that in his experience, the Joint Committee had been very cooperative once they understood what the real problem was. Mr. LeBaron remarked that the Department of Defense believes that security of weapons information is very important and that even if such an amendment as proposed were approved by the Congress, there would be many difficulties in this problem of exchange of information.

As the meeting adjourned, Mr. Dean remarked that he did not feel it appropriate at this time to raise the subject of a proposed Atomic Energy Commission mission to the United Kingdom, Item V on the Agenda. Mr. Acheson replied that he had assumed that this was the general feeling of all present, and that he, too, did not feel it appropriate to raise this point now. The meeting adjourned at 4 p. m.

Joseph Chase
  1. Not printed.
  2. The minutes under reference are printed in Foreign Relations, 1949, vol. i, pp. 529 and 548.
  3. Post, p. 767.
  4. Regarding the agreements under reference, see footnote 5, p. 764.
  5. The British paper under reference, July 12, is not printed.
  6. Acting Secretary of Defense Lovett’s letter to Secretary of State Acheson, August 18, is not printed.
  7. Chairman Dean’s letter to Secretary of State Acheson, August 24, is not printed. A copy is attached to the source text as Tab C.
  8. Ante, p. 747.
  9. On February 3, 1950, Dr. Klaus E. J. Fuchs, Chief of the Theoretical Physics Division of Britain’s Harwell atomic energy research laboratories, was arrested for espionage. Fuchs, who had participated in the development of the atomic bomb in the United States during World War II, subsequently admitted passing information to the Soviet Union during and after the war. Another senior scientist at Harwell, Dr. Bruno Pontecorvo, defected to the Soviet Union in October 1950. Regarding the Burgess-MacLean case, see letter by Assistant Secretary of State McFall to Senator McMahon, August 13, supra.
  10. T. Keith Glennan, Member of the United States Atomic Energy Commission.
  11. Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer, Chairman of the General Advisory Committee of the United States Atomic Energy Commission.
  12. M. W. Ferrin, Deputy Controller of Atomic Energy (Technical Policy), British Ministry of Supply.
  13. August 27.
  14. Ante, p. 747.
  15. Danish theoretical physicist and pioneer in nuclear physics; adviser, United States atomic energy development program, 1943–1945.
  16. Dr. Enrico Fermi of the University of Chicago; prominent figure in the development of atomic energy; member of the General Advisory Committee of the United States Atomic Energy Commission, 1946–1950.
  17. Dr. Edward Teller of the University of Chicago; physicist associated with the atomic energy development program since 1941.