The Chairman of the United States Atomic Energy Commission (Dean) to the Acting Secretary of Defense (Foster)


Dear Mr. Foster: This is in response to your letter of November 2, 19511 concerning S. 2233. I have not responded earlier since I was out of the country when your letter was received, and have just recently returned.

The general question of what atomic energy information should be exchanged with foreign countries, the legality of such interchange in view of the provisions of Section 10 of the Atomic Energy Act of 1946 and the general desirability of amending the Act in such a way as to give greater flexibility to the United States to engage in interchange which would be beneficial to this country have been subjects for discussion on numerous occasions between the Department of Defense, the State Department and the Atomic Energy Commission over a period of many years. To list all of these discussions and to indicate the results thereof would at this point serve no useful purpose. It will [Page 786] suffice to say that there has been general recognition that the provisions of Section 10 are far too restrictive and that areas do exist in which more interchange would be beneficial to the United States.

In the meeting of the American members of the Combined Policy Committee on September 7, 1950,2 attended by Secretary Acheson, Secretary Johnson, General Bradley, myself and members of our staffs, I suggested the desirability of our securing the plutonium output of the British piles. At that meeting General Bradley stated that if there were no legal obstacles he felt it would be highly desirable from a strictly military point of view to establish all-out cooperation with the British in the weapons field. He stated that he would favor an arrangement whereby the United States would secure UK plutonium output in exchange for furnishing the UK with a suitable number of weapons. There was general agreement that an arrangement of this type would undoubtedly require Congressional action. It was also agreed that prospects were very dim for a change in the law before the next session of the Congress. It was also agreed that inasmuch as the Department of Defense has the greatest interest in arrangements involving military security, the most expeditious way to go about firming up a US position would be to have the Department of Defense come up with its recommendations. Once these were in hand, the State Department and the Atomic Energy Commission could make their respective contributions. It was agreed that Mr. LeBaron, in consultation with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the joint Secretaries, would proceed immediately to firm up the views of the Department of Defense. As a result of this meeting a study was undertaken by the staff of the Military Liaison Committee, and the paper embodying the study was approved by the Joint Chiefs of Staff.3 In effect it recommended that the United States turn over to the British completed atomic bombs in exchange for plutonium of equivalent value from British piles. It soon became apparent to the Atomic Energy Commission, and I believe eventually to the Joint Chiefs, that it was not practical to give completed weapons to the British without disclosing highly significant technical information on US atomic weapons.

On September 14, 1951 Mr. LeBaron furnished me with a draft memorandum indicating some of the thinking of General Bradley on this subject, but in the letter of transmittal Mr. LeBaron said that “these notes are entirely informal and do not have any official status within the Department of Defense.”4

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Prior to this—on May 18, 1951—in order to bring the matter to a head, I had transmitted to the Executive Secretary of the National Security Council a request for an early meeting of the Council to discuss cooperation with the UK and Canada on atomic energy matters and a draft amendment to the Act which would give flexibility to the Commission to interchange information with Presidential approval.5 In this request I transmitted examples of the types of cooperation with Canada, the UK, Belgium and other countries which might be highly beneficial to the United States, these being for the most part in the non-weapons field. The disappearance of MacLean and Burgess and the crowded calendars of the members of the National Security Council Special Committee combined to postpone the consideration of these two problems, although in the CPC meeting of August 27, 19516 I again raised, in connection with the proposal to hold a test of a British bomb in this country, the restrictive provisions of Section 10. I gathered from the remarks that the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of State were wholly sympathetic to a legislative change but the question was largely one of timing. There was some feeling that it would be impossible in the late days of the Congress to get such an amendment through. I in turn suggested that the question of timing and the merits of the proposal be separated, the matter of timing to be determined by the President.

About this time there arose a situation which called for immediate solution. It had to do with the new discovery in the Athabaska Region of Canada and the desire of the Canadians to hire an American construction concern to build a process plant to bring uranium ores to a pure oxide state. The desire of the Canadians to use our process grew out of the fact that in the process they were contemplating the process loss would run from . . ., whereas our process loss runs. . . . Here obviously was a case where interchange was substantially beneficial to the United States. I advised Mr. Lovett orally of the problem and also General Bradley, as well as the Secretary of State. I told them also that since under the provisions of the Atomic Energy Act it is my duty to keep the Joint Committee fully and currently advised on such matters, I would have to present the problem to them and that I would do so with the hope that they would themselves come forward with legislation which would permit the interchange.

Before taking this up with the Joint Committee, however, I told the President of the problem, advising him that there was no Executive branch position, that I foresaw no difficulty in the Congress if the Joint Committee was fully advised of our problem and was unanimous on the solution. He instructed me to present the matter to the Joint [Page 788] Committee, the idea of Committee-sponsored legislation appealing to him.

On September 12, 19511 presented the matter to the Joint Committee. I furnished them with no legislation, explaining that it would be my hope that any legislation would be sponsored by the Joint Committee, that I had no language to suggest but that some kind of legislation was necessary to give us the freedom that was needed in this kind of a situation. The first draft of the bill was undertaken by the staff of the Joint Committee, and major changes were suggested by various members of the Joint Committee. While I felt that the legislation was still unduly restrictive, the needs of our program required an immediate solution. The bill was unanimously agreed upon by the Committee and became law on October 30, 1951.7

As soon as the draft of the Committee’s amendment was available, I notified Mr. Lovett of the development and on October 1, 1951 placed in his hands the text of the Committee’s proposal. This was eight days before the legislation was reported out by the Committee. At the same time I supplied a copy of the proposal to the Secretary of State. There has been, therefore, from the beginning the closest possible relationship between the Atomic Energy Commission and the Department of Defense.

The many safeguards of the bill which are described at some length in the Joint Committee’s Report (Senate Report 894, 82nd Congress) will afford the Department of Defense a full opportunity to express its views with respect to any arrangement with any other nation that might be sought by the Atomic Energy Commission pursuant to the new legislation. For example, after the Commission approves a particular arrangement, it must also be approved by the President, and the National Security Council (of which the Secretary of Defense is a member) must make a recommendation in writing to the President with respect to any such proposed arrangement.

We completely agree with your views as to the need for close working; relationships between our respective agencies in regard to legislation of concern to both of us. I understand, for example, that representatives from our two agencies have been working closely together for some time, with respect to the vexing problems of the Commission and the Department of Defense relating to personnel security clearances, and that recently we have together worked out specific legislation agreeable to both agencies which can promptly be submitted to the Congress when it reconvenes next January.

You have our assurance of our desires and intentions to keep the Department of Defense informed on legislation of mutual interest and to work closely with the Department of Defense in regard to such legislation. I am sending a copy of this letter to the Secretary of State.

Sincerely yours,

Gordon Dean
  1. Supra.
  2. For the minutes of this meeting, see Foreign Relations, 1950, vol. i, p. 572.
  3. The study, transmitted by Secretary of Defense Marshall to Secretary of State Acheson (Chairman of the Combined Policy Committee) on January 31, 1951, is not printed.
  4. Draft memorandum and letter of transmittal not found in Department of State files, but see statement by the Department of Defense transmitted to the Department of State, September 17, p. 769.
  5. See the memorandum by Executive Secretary Lay, dated May 21, p. 721.
  6. For minutes, see p. 763.
  7. Public Law 235, 82d Cong. (65 Stat. 692).