Atomic Energy Files, Lot 57 D 688

Draft Memorandum by the Special Assistant to the Secretary of State (Aimeson)

top secret

Memorandum for the Secretary

Subject: Proposals to Test First British Atomic Weapon at Las Vegas

The status of the British request to us to assist them in testing their first atomic weapons at Las Vegas is as follows:

  • Following on the CPC meeting of August 27 appropriate staff representatives from the Department of Defense and the Atomic Energy Commission have sought jointly to work up a counter-proposal which would go a long way toward meeting the British request without overstepping the limits of the Atomic Energy Act of 1946. The U.S. counter-proposal (attached)1 has been approved by the AEC and is now awaiting approval of the Department of Defense. Certain minor changes have been made in the proposal at Mr. LeBaron’s request. [Page 769] With these changes, which are not substantive, he has approved the proposal but wishes to show it both to the Joint Chiefs of Staff and to Mr. Lovett before giving final concurrence. It is expected that the proposal will be agreed to by both the agencies primarily concerned and sent to me for transmittal to the British before the end of the week.

The U.S. counter-proposals appear to me to be reasonable and should, I feel, prove acceptable to the British. Both the AEC and the Department of Defense have striven to go as far as the law will permit. The services which are being offered to the British should make it possible for them to conduct an adequate first test and obtain all the necessary basic data concerning it.

Should Foreign Minister Herbert Morrison speak to you today about the test proposal2 you may wish to respond along the following lines:

  • The United States is very hopeful that it will be possible to work out means whereby the first British atomic weapon can be tested at Las Vegas. Certan counter-proposals have been drawn up and it is expected that these will shortly be submitted to the United Kingdom. The United States hopes very much that the United Kingdom will find the U.S counter-proposals acceptable. For its part the United States will have gone as far as it is possible to do under the Atomic Energy Act of 1946. In other words the U.S. counter-proposals, which it is hoped will be transmitted within the next few days, represents the best offer that the United States is able to make.

R. Gordon Arneson
  1. The attachment does not accompany the source text and has not been found in Department of State files. On September 18, Robert A. Lovett, who had succeeded General Marshall as Secretary of Defense on the previous day, and Gordon Dean, Chairman of the United States Atomic Energy Commission, transmitted an agreed counterproposal to Secretary of State Acheson, the Chairman of the Combined Policy Committee. Also on September 18, R. Gordon Arneson, American Secretary of the Combined Policy Committee, transmitted the counterproposal to F. W. Marten, the British Secretary. In each case, the attachment does not accompany the communication of transmittal in the files.

    On October 15, Dean transmitted to Arneson and the Department of Defense an amplification of the basic U.S. counterproposal. This understanding had been arrived at through discussions over the previous two weeks between representatives of the Department of Defense, the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, and the United Kingdom. The U.S. Atomic Energy Commission approved this enlarged version subject to concurrence by State and Defense. The revised draft consisted of the September 18 text with proposed modifications indicated. This six-page understanding, not printed, concerned itself with technical, logistical, and financial considerations, and outlined the areas of participation, obligations, and responsibilities of each party in test operations. (Atomic Energy Files, Lot 57 D 688)

  2. Morrison was in Washington for meetings of the Foreign Ministers of the United States, the United Kingdom, and France, September 10–14. The memorandum of the Acheson–Morrison conversation on atomic energy questions, September 10 (p. 880), indicates that the subject of the test did not arise. However, the matter of the exchange of information was discussed. For documentation on the Foreign Ministers conference, see vol. iii, pp. 1163 ff.