Atomic Energy files, lot 57 D 688, “Combined Policy Committee”

Minutes of the Meeting of the United States Members of the Combined Policy Committee, Washington, April 16, 1952, 3:30 p.m.1

top secret
  • Present:
    • Members
      • Secretary of State Acheson
      • Secretary of Defense Lovett
      • Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, Mr. Dean
    • By Invitation
      • Robert LeBaron, Deputy to the Secretary of Defense on Atomic Energy Matters
      • John A. Hall, Atomic Energy Commission
    • Secretary
      • R. Gordon Arneson

I. Indian Monazite

Secretary Acheson reviewed the history of the Pawley negotiations for Indian monazite which had culminated in an agreement between Dr. Sir S. S. Bhatnagar and Ambassador Pawley to submit three points to their respective governments for consideration (Tab A).2 Secretary Acheson understood that the Atomic Energy Commission, after due consideration of the proposals Ambassador Pawley had brought back with him, had decided that from a strictly business point of view it would not be able to support the proposals as stated. However, he understood that the Commission was prepared to lend support to the Departments of Defense and State should they wish to continue the negotiations on the basis set forth in the BhatnagarPawley note. Secretary Acheson reviewed the domestic supply situation, pointing out that increased tonnages of monazite were in sight from domestic sources and that promising new technical developments enabling industry to treat a mineral known as bastnasite for its rare earth constituents would apparently ease the supply situation as far as domestic industry was concerned by quite a large factor. He recalled that there would in all probability be available from other sources over the next three-year period very sizeable tonnages of monazite: 9,000 tons from South Africa and 7500 tons from Brazil.3 If the Indian negotiations [Page 887] were consummated on the basis contemplated, an additional 7500 tons would be available over the three-year period, making a total of 24,000 tons.

Chairman Dean stated that the AEC had a very tentative stockpile requirement for 2,000 tons of thorium oxide of which 1,000 tons were already available in the slag dumps situated in the back yard of the Lindsay Light and Chemical Company in the West Chicago plant. The Atomic Energy Commission considered the South African offers which had very recently been made to be most attractive. The suggested price was low both in terms of quoted price per ton and in terms of the fact that it would not be necessary to assist South Africa in the erection of a processing plant. The Commission did appreciate, however, that there might be other considerations of a military or political nature which made it desirable to continue negotiations with India for monazite along the lines that had been established by Bhatnagar and Pawley in their earlier talks. If this were the case, the Commission would, of course, interpose no objection. The Commission also realized that it was desirable to make arrangements to prevent Indian monazite or its derivatives from falling into the hands of the Soviet Union.

Secretary Lovett felt that the negotiations should be continued for several reasons:

To acquire thorium for stockpile if necessary;
To obtain the various collateral benefits in maintaining faith with the Indian Government, especially as regards other strategic materials;
To keep the embargo on monazite lifted.

He said he was having the lawyers in the Department of Defense look into the question whether Defense might purchase thorium for stockpile. He was anxious that the United States Government not appear to be welching on its negotiations. It was exceedingly desirable that no action be taken on this problem which might cause the Indians to turn to the Soviet Union. With regard to financing Secretary Lovett understood that the Munitions Board would be in a position to obligate funds up to mid–1954.

Chairman Dean said the Commission would find it difficult to justify an expenditure of $7,500,000 annually for the purchase of 2500 tons of monazite, particularly since most of the constituent elements of monazite were rare earths for which the Commission had very little need. One could never be certain that new uses for rare earths might not be found; however, none of any consequence had thus far arisen. Even if there were increased demand for rare earths, it seemed probable that such demand could be met from the new bastnasite possibilities which had just developed. As to the [Page 888] Commission’s interest in thorium from which is derived the fissionable isotope U–233, considerable uncertainty existed. If the tentative stockpile of 2,000 tons of thorium were converted with a 10% efficiency to U–233, this would result in 200 tons of fissionable material which for any envisageable program was a very large amount.

Secretary Lovett felt that a strong case could be made here for preemptive options even though U.S. need for the material appeared to be considerably less than had formerly been thought. While it would be difficult to justify a deal on the thorium base alone, he felt the United States would be justified in entering into arrangements for general stockpile purposes. As to the South African situation, he recalled that an ugly race problem was brewing there which might lead to serious unrest and possibly to civil war thus making South Africa a rather uncertain source of supply.

On the assumption that 800 to 1,000 tons of thorium was required to bring the stockpile up to 2,000 tons of thorium, Secretary Acheson pointed out that the lower figure could be obtained by taking the monazite tonnages envisaged from Brazil and South Africa. In order to reach the higher figure, it would be necessary to add the proposed tonnages from India. This arithmetic was based on the assumption that monazite would contain an average of 5% thorium oxide. Secretary Acheson reverted to the difficulties that had been experienced in the past from the Lindsay Light and Chemical Company which was now bitterly opposed to the proposed Indian negotiations. He hoped that if the Munitions Board were prepared to take an active interest in the continuation of negotiations it would be prepared to take the heat from the Lindsay Company. As far as the Department of State was concerned, it was anxious that if there were a present or foreseeable future interest in the United States Government for monazite and/or its constituents, it would be very desirable for the negotiations to be continued in some form or other. It seemed clear that if the negotiations were now allowed to lapse it would be highly improbable that they could again be renewed. Even in the unlikely contingency that they could be renewed, it seemed obvious that the circumstances would be less favorable than presently seemed to be the case. He recalled that the Pawley mission had gone out to India a year ago when there was great pressure from the Congress to write specific language into the India wheat bill requiring India to repay the wheat loan by the export of strategic materials. Ambassador Pawley had succeeded in keeping such language out of the bill by his undertaking to go to India to see what could be done by way of negotiation to secure desired strategic materials, including monazite. In view of this past history and the success thus far registered in attempting [Page 889] to break the Indian embargo, it would be most unwise to allow the negotiations to lapse unless it was clear that the United States Government would have no foreseeable future interest in monazite and its derivatives.

Secretary Lovett felt that the prime objective in continuing negotiations should be to secure options for preemptive purchase. He felt that the need for U–233 would become increasingly greater. There were many new developments in the weapons field which would greatly proliferate the demand for fissionable material. A new guided missile, the Nike, recently proof tested, demonstrated the possibility of delivering atomic warheads by such means. Finally, the Joint Chiefs of Staff were becoming increasingly worried about the security of overseas sources of supply. The Soviet submarine menace was taking on increasingly grave proportions. It would appear common prudence to bring into the continental confines of the United States any and all strategic materials against the day that they might be needed.

Chairman Dean pointed out that U–233 possessed certain advantages over plutonium and U–235 as a fissionable material. Its critical mass was smaller and it seemed to possess certain inherent stabilities which were greater than the other two. On the other hand, in order to convert 2,000 tons of thorium to say 1600 tons of U–233, 2,000 tons of U–235 would be burned up in the process. In the light of this technical fact it was difficult to see what net gain would result from the production of U–233.

Mr. LeBaron stressed the problem of lead time, pointing out that it would be at least 18 months before one could be sure whether U–233 could be proven a desirable weapons material. He felt it would be a mistake to establish artificial ceilings on our weapons program when these ceilings might turn out to be far too low in the light of technological developments.

Chairman Dean said he thought it would be desirable to keep a foot in the door in the Indian monazite situation but suggested it might be desirable to cut down the tonnages which Pawley would be authorized to negotiate. His suggestion was that the tonnage of monazite to be contracted for annually should be cut from 2500 tons to 1,000 tons. Secretary Lovett agreed, suggesting that the commitment be to purchase an amount not in excess of 1,000 tons of monazite annually. He went on to say that he thought Ambassador Pawley should be instructed to get a commitment in writing from the Indian Government if possible that it would not ship monazite or its derivatives to any iron curtain country. Both Secretary Acheson and Chairman Dean agreed that this would be desirable.

Chairman Dean inquired as to the term of contract that should be contemplated. Secretary Lovett felt that it should not be open-ended. [Page 890] Mr. Arneson suggested that the contract might be drawn in such a way as to commit the United States to take stated tonnages of monazite for the period required to amortize the processing plant, this to be followed by a series of successive options to buy. Mr. LeBaron pointed out that a limit on the term of the contract would probably find expression in the period in which the Munitions Board is authorized to make funds available from unvouchered sources, namely to mid–1954.

Mr. Arneson inquired whether the Atomic Energy Commission was prepared itself to give, or to use its good offices to secure from industry, the technical assistance which would be required in the erection of the processing plant. Chairman Dean agreed that the Commission would be in a position to do so.

Mr. Arneson inquired whether it was the sense of the meeting that Pawley should be told that the United States Government could entertain no interest in the third item of the BhatnagarPawley note, namely titanium. It was agreed that this was so.

At Secretary Acheson’s suggestion, it was agreed that instructions consonant with the agreement that had been reached in the meeting should be sent to Ambassador Pawley through Defense channels after appropriate clearance with the three agencies represented.

II. Chairman of the CDA4

Secretary Lovett explained that his concern about the nomination of Marion Boyer5 to be Chairman of the CDA stemmed from his conviction that Mr. Boyer already had too much to do and should not be given additional burdens which would take him away from his main job which was to expedite the expansion program.

Chairman Dean pointed out that the CDA load was not a heavy one. The Agency was in large part a mechanism whereby tripartite arrangements with the United Kingdom and Canada were formalized and expedited. The focus for determining the rate and scale of effort for the United States ore procurement program was in the Raw Materials Division of the Atomic Energy Commission and not in the Combined Development Agency. As to the suggestion that had been made in Mr. Lovett’s letter of February 15, 1952 (Tab B),6 that an outside body might be established to help the Commission [Page 891] to expedite its raw materials procurement program, Chairman Dean thought this would be most unwise. He referred to the fact that the Commission already had available the services of a Minerals Advisory Committee composed of 12 members who are the most eminent authorities in the minerals field in the country and their services were available to whatever extent required. Finally, Chairman Dean said it would be unwise for the Agency Chairman to be one of the Atomic Energy Commissioners. He recalled that Sumner Pike7 had never been happy with the arrangement when he was the Agency Chairman for it had meant in effect that as Commissioner he was placed in the role of taking positions in the CDA subject to a review of those positions by himself as a Commissioner together with his colleagues. This was an altogether awkward situation which should not be repeated.

Secretary Lovett referred to the very great accelerations that had been introduced into the atomic energy program and felt that the ore procurement program should be required to keep pace. Engaged as we were in a program which might make the difference between our survival or not, he thought that no effort should be spared to press the program forward with all possible haste. Chairman Dean agreed, but pointed out that this had little to do with the CDA or its chairmanship.

Secretary Lovett said he appreciated the points that Chairman Dean had made in connection with a suggestion for an outside agency and also saw the force of the argument against the appointment of an AEC Commissioner as Chairman of the Agency. Secretary Lovett said that his concern over the Boyer appointment was twofold. First, he did not wish to waste an asset, namely Mr. Boyer’s abilities as General Manager of an expanded program, by pulling him away for CDA activities. Second, he was most anxious that every effort be bent to support the expanded programs that had already been set in motion. Having stated his apprehensions, Secretary Lovett said he realized that the problem was essentially one of management within the AEC and would have to be left in the final analysis to the Commission to work out. Chairman Dean said that he would be glad to reexamine the matter to see whether there was someone else within the Atomic Energy Commission who might be named as Chairman of the Agency. Secretary Acheson expressed the view that the decision as to nomination of the Agency Chairman should rest with Chairman Dean and he hoped that a satisfactory solution would be found.

[Page 892]

III. Ore Procurement Policy

Secretary Lovett said he wished to take the opportunity to revert to another matter which had been discussed earlier in the working group of the Special Committee of the National Security Council, namely the question of United States ore procurement policies. Chairman Dean recalled that under the latest expansion program which had been approved by the President, ore requirements projected to 1958 were set at 9,200 tons annually of virgin feed. In approving the expansion program the President had approved a policy of stockpiling additional tonnages of ore over and above the estimated 9,200 ton requirement figure up to an annual rate of 12,500 tons by 1961. The Commission was seeking to obtain maximum additional tonnages primarily from foreign sources.

Secretary Lovett outlined the context in which this problem had arisen. He recalled during the November hearings of the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy, Defense had been sharply criticized for not having established larger military requirements for atomic weapons. In earlier expansion programs it had been found that ore was the limiting factor and while it did not appear to be the limiting factor in the current situation, it might again become so. Commissioner Murray had recently written a letter to the Special Committee of the NSC8 stating that in his view much larger tonnages of ore could be obtained if more aggressive procurement policies were pursued. Because of the earlier criticism to which Defense had been subjected to by the JCAE, Secretary Lovett felt it was incumbent upon him to raise the question.

In response to a query from Secretary Lovett, Chairman Dean said that an ore stockpiling program would not necessarily mean extensive processing of the ore thereby increasing the cost factor, but that such ore as might come to hand could be processed through the green salts stage and stockpiled in that form.

Mr. LeBaron felt that the Commission should undertake a detailed study of the possible tonnages of ore that might be obtained at various cost levels to see what the economics of the situation would be. He felt that such a study should concentrate on securing ore from sources other than high cost shales and phosphates. He felt the Commission should embark upon a program of securing maximum ore tonnages so that raw material would never in the future have to be considered a limiting factor in the atomic energy program.

[Page 893]

In response to Chairman Dean’s comment that the military establishment should set requirements, Secretary Lovett pointed out that a top limit on military requirements for weapons was infinite. In reality the Joint Chiefs of Staff had, in connection with the recent expansion program, come up with an agreed minimum requirement. Requirements are certain to be increased. With the very rapid strides that are taking place in the guided missile field, it seemed obvious that more and more demand would be placed on production of atomic weapons.

Chairman Dean stated that the Commission was constantly seeking out new sources of ore supply wherever and whenever possible. He thought it would be a mistake to formalize tonnage requirements as of any given date since new possibilities of ore supply appeared constantly to be developing. To set firm figures within specified time limits would require the Commission to launch a very extensive program for the exploration of shales and phosphates. In his view it would be better to leave it to the Commission to exploit all new possibilities as they arose without running into exorbitant costs. He felt that a thorough study of the relationship between costs vs. tonnages which might be obtained would require 6 months time and he felt it would be better to do a thorough job even if this period of time was necessary rather than come to premature judgments.

Secretary Lovett, characterizing the nature of modern armament as exceedingly complicated and costly, said that unless it were possible to rely more and more on atomic weapons as a means of shrinking the size of the military budget, we may well find ourselves running into astronomical rearmament cost figures. With many new developments imminent in terms of tactical use, increased number of targets, the possibility of use of atomic weapons by the Navy and Army, there would appear to be virtually no limit to the military requirements for atomic weapons that could be generated. When atomic weapons are fashioned in a variety of standard sizes and with a high degree of reliability, the day will arrive when atomic weapons will be looked upon as ammunition rather than special weapons. Secretary Acheson suggested that when we get into a period of vastly increased military requirements for atomic weapons it seemed likely that even if ore were in plentiful supply, it would be found that there were other limiting factors in the economy which would put ceilings on atomic weapon production. Mr. LeBaron agreed that this would probably be so. He was anxious, however, that we avoid any situation where ore procurement policies might place an arbitrary ceiling on the atomic energy program.

[Page 894]

It was understood that the Atomic Energy Commission would undertake a detailed study of ore procurement policies with particular reference to the relationship between tonnages and costs. It was recognized that such a study would take some months to prepare and that the matter should be reviewed again when Chairman Dean was able to report that the study had been completed.

R. Gordon Arneson
  1. The Combined Policy Committee, which was charged with overall coordination of cooperation between the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada, was established under the terms of the Quebec Agreement signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill on Aug. 19, 1943; for text of the Quebec Agreement, see Foreign Relations, The Conferences at Washington and Quebec, 1943, pp. 11171119. For the minutes of the last previous meeting of the CPC, Aug. 27, 1951, see Foreign Relations, 1951, vol. i, p. 763. For the minutes of the last previous meeting of the American members of the CPC, see ibid., p. 755.
  2. The note signed by Dr. Sir S. S. Bhatnagar, Secretary of the Indian Ministry of Natural Resources and Scientific Research, and William D. Pawley, Special Consultant to the Secretary of State, Sept. 25, 1951, is not printed. For documentation on negotiations between the United States and India regarding raw materials, see vol. xi, Part 2, pp. 1633 ff. For previous documentation on atomic energy aspects of U.S. Indian relations, see Foreign Relations, 1951, vol. i, pp. 694 ff. Unpublished material on the Pawley mission and other U.S.-Indian negotiations regarding atomic energy-related raw materials is in files 891.2546 and 493.918, and in Atomic Energy files, lot 57 D 688, “India”.
  3. For the text of an agreement with South Africa concerning uranium dated Jan. 4, 1952, see vol. xi, Part 1, p. 902. Unpublished documentation on atomic energy aspects of U.S.-South African relations is in file 845A.2546 and in Atomic Energy files, lot 57 D 688, “South Africa”. For documentation on monazite negotiations with Brazil, see vol. iv, pp. 570 ff. Unpublished documentation on U.S.-Brazilian atomic energy questions is in file 832.2546 and in Atomic Energy files, lot 57 D 688, “Brazil”. For previous documentation on atomic energy-related negotiations with both South Africa and Brazil, see Foreign Relations, 1951, vol. i, pp. 750 ff. and 696 ff.
  4. The Combined Development Trust (CDT), subsequently renamed the Combined Development Agency (CDA), was established by the Agreement and Declaration of Trust, signed by President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill on June 13, 1944; for text, see Foreign Relations, 1944, vol. ii, pp. 10261028. The CDA operated under the direction of the Combined Policy Committee, for the purpose of securing control and insuring development of uranium and thorium supplies located outside of the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Dominions.
  5. Marion W. Boyer, General Manager of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission.
  6. Not printed.
  7. Member of the Atomic Energy Commission, 1946–1951.
  8. The letter by Commissioner Thomas E. Murray has not been found. Drawing in part on his experience with the Atomic Energy Commission, 1950–1957, Murray set forth his views on various atomic energy issues in Nuclear Policy for War and Peace (Cleveland and New York, The World Publishing Company, 1960).