Truman Library, PSF–Subject file, “Atomic Energy—Expansion of the Fissionable”

Memorandum by the Executive Secretary of the National Security Council (Lay) to the President

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Pursuant to your authorization, each member of the Special Committee of the National Security Council on Atomic Energy has reviewed and restated his position regarding the Special Committee’s recommendation for the planned additional expansion of the atomic energy program, in the light of the request by Senator Maybank, of the Senate Appropriations Committee, as reported by Mr. Dean in his attached letter of May 8, 1952.1

The replies of each member of the Special Committee are enclosed herewith for your consideration.

James S. Lay, Jr.

[Annex 1]

Memorandum by the Secretary of State to the Executive Secretary of the National Security Council (Lay)

top secret
  • Subject:
  • Secretary of State Position on the Atomic Energy Commission’s Expansion Program.

Reference: Memorandum from the Executive Secretary of the National Security Council to the Secretary of State dated May 14, 1952, entitled “Expansion of the Atomic Energy Program”.2

In accordance with the request contained in the referenced memorandum, I have reviewed the position of the Department of State on the planned expansion program of the Atomic Energy Commission in the light of current and possible future developments on the international front.
The planned expansion program will not begin to give results in the form of additions to the United States atomic weapons stockpile until about 1956. Nevertheless, in the opinion of the Department, the planned expansion program is essential to the national security to cover the period roughly from 1956 on, when the atomic capabilities of the USSR will presumably be substantial. A U.S. capability to deal repeated atomic blows at the USSR production potential together with a sufficient quantity of atomic weapons for battlefield use may then be an essential factor serving not only as a deterrent to possible Soviet aggression but also as additional reasonable assurance of victory for the United States and the free world should a war be thrust upon us. The planned expansion program will help achieve this capability. It is the view of the Department of State that the planned expansion program should go forward.
Dean Acheson

[Annex 2]

Memorandum by the Secretary of Defense (Lovett) to the Executive Secretary of the National Security Council (Lay)

  • Subject:
  • Expansion of the Atomic Energy Program
I refer to your memorandum of 14 May 1952, subject as above, which forwarded a letter from the Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission dated 8 May 1952 and requested a review and restatement of position regarding the atomic energy expansion program which was recommended to the President on 16 January 1952 by the Special Committee of the National Security Council on Atomic Energy.3
I have reviewed my position on this expansion program as stated in my memorandum to you dated 11 December 1951 and reaffirm my strong support for the program.4
The objective of the Department of Defense in recommending the program for expansion of atomic energy production facilities, now under consideration in the Congress, is to afford the United States a greater advantage from this powerful weapon in any conflict with the Soviet Union or any other active enemy of the United States. To achieve this aim, we place no limit on the extent of the use of atomic or any other weapons, nor do we believe that the use [Page 935] of large numbers of atomic weapons against an enemy would have an adverse effect on neutrals or potential allies.
Military requirements for atomic weapons are formulated by the same process as are requirements for any other weapons. The individual Services calculate their needs, based on missions assigned them by approved war plans, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff adjust and balance these needs as best possible to assure maximum effectiveness of the combined military resources.
Prior to formulation of the atomic weapons requirements, upon which the currently recommended expansion has been based, the Department of Defense has not stated a pure atomic military requirement irrespective of raw material resources and production capabilities. Previous military requirements have been stated only within the availability of source materials as predicted by the Atomic Energy Commission and balanced production facilities designed to convert source materials into fissionable materials under an economically operated program.
In the past, the predicted availability of uranium ore has been the limiting factor in programs for the development of processing capacity. This factor no longer obtains. It is now clear that, under an aggressive ore procurement policy, we can base fissionable material production capacity on the requirements for the end product, rather than on the availability of raw materials.
The expansion program now recommended is the result of a carefully calculated analysis of the role of atomic weapons in augmenting our military capacity. It has been developed from this analysis that, in addition to strengthening and extending the strategic role of atomic weapons, atomic developments in both weapons and delivery systems have demonstrated the feasibility of a highly effective tactical application. This application would include delivery by both land- and carrier-based fighter, fighter-bomber and light bomber aircraft, as well as by guided missiles, guns and rockets. These tactical applications, as progressively developed and supported by an adequate stock of fissionable materials, will go far toward providing the free world a means of balancing the superior manpower and the advantage of surprise and initiative held by the Communist forces. Military requirements for atomic weapons as determined today are based on broad and flexible applications. They arise, primarily, from the necessity of meeting Communist aggression by more extensive use of our superior industrial and scientific resources rather than by attempting to match our potential enemy man-for-man. To do so requires a definite minimum number of atomic weapons. This minimum requirement cannot be obtained too soon. We recognize that, with any degree of expansion that might be conceived, results in terms of additional weapons over [Page 936] those to be provided by the present program cannot be attained for several years. This fact, however, does not in any way reduce or otherwise affect the need.
Expansion of production facilities to meet this goal is not more important than expanded efforts to assure greater deliverability of atomic weapons. However, the expansion of production facilities of the Atomic Energy Commission is not influenced by the imponderables which are inherent in providing greater probability of delivery on target. The expansion program provides only an increase in the atomic ammunition. These imponderables include Soviet offensive capability; Soviet capability to destroy our delivery capabilities; weather conditions which will exist over targets; and the reliability of intelligence as related to target information. As a result of a study of these factors, the Department of Defense considers the recommended expansion program to be the most feasible way in which to provide our Armed Forces with the greatest possible military power and within the minimum period of time.
Two important questions have arisen as to the extent and timing of the recommended expansion and its effect upon over-all military requirements for conventional munitions and forces. With respect to timing, the proposed program, if approved and initiated at an early date, will provide the Armed Forces with their absolute minimum requirements of atomic weapons by numbers and types approximately five years earlier than will the present program. The respective dates are 1960 and 1965. As far as can be determined now, the five-year difference may mean the difference between victory and defeat.
We can complete the proposed plant expansion in about five years at an average cost of less than a billion dollars a year. The tremendous addition to the power of the United States resulting from the product of these new plants will be out of all proportion to their dollar cost. As a dividend payable in more peaceful times, the energy content of the fissionable material from these plants should be a substantial supplement to the natural fuel resources of this country—resources which our other defense preparations are depleting at an alarming rate. It is impossible to determine with precision what level of expenditure will assure the nation’s security, but I know of no better insurance against the risk that our other military preparations prove insufficient than to build up our atomic plant capacity to the level justified by the uranium prospects. In the light of present day costs of preparing for, to say nothing of fighting a war, the premium for such insurance appears to be quite modest.
Concerning the effect of this recommended expansion upon current budgets of the Department of Defense, it is to be borne in [Page 937] mind that a large part of our current budget is for the expansion of our capability to deliver atomic weapons and the integration of that capability into our over-all fighting potential. The strength, compositions and equipment programs of the Armed Forces, as provided for in current budgets, are based on a progressive program of supplementing and, in part, replacing conventional weapons systems by atomic weapons systems. Clearly, to accept any reduction in our planned and programmed fighting potential in anticipation of ultimate replacement by an atomic weapon potential yet to be achieved would be to gamble recklessly with the security of the nation.
Robert A. Lovett

[Annex 3]

Memorandum by the Chairman of the United States Atomic Energy Commission (Dean) to the Executive Secretary of the National Security Council (Lay)

Re: Expansion of the atomic energy program

Reference is made to your letter of May 14, 1952, which in turn referenced my letter to you of May 8, 1952 relative to the request of the Independent Offices Subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee to secure a review by the members of the National Security Council of the expansion program.

As the Commission representative on the NSC Special Committee, I can state to you at this time that the AEC position with reference to the importance, the feasibility and the cost of this program is the same as when the matter was presented to the National Security Council earlier this year. Nothing has occurred which would change our recommendations. As indicated in my letter of May 8, 1952, however, we believe that the total estimated capital cost for the program will be less than our original estimate.

Gordon Dean
[Page 938]

[Annex 4]

The Director of the Office of Defense Mobilization (Steelman) to the Executive Secretary of the National Security Council (Lay)

Dear Mr. Lay: At the time of the consideration by the National Security Council of the planned additional expansion of the atomic energy program, former Defense Mobilizer Charles E. Wilson personally participated in an active role. He also directed studies of the feasibility of the program in terms of its impact upon the economy and upon our mobilization effort.

Since that time, it has become increasingly clear that this program can be integrated into the future plans for expansion of various segments of the mobilization effort. Its impact upon materials, power supply, and manpower have been taken into consideration in the estimates of over-all feasibility made by the several mobilization-planning agencies.

I am, therefore, able to re-affirm the original approval of the program on feasibility grounds which was given by this office when it was considered by the Security Council.

Sincerely yours,

John R. Steelman
  1. Neither the request from Senator Burnet R. Maybank of South Carolina nor the letter from Gordon Dean, Chairman of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, has been found in Department of State files. Senator Maybank was Chairman of the Subcommittee on Independent Offices.

    In a letter of May 28, to Senator Maybank, President Truman stated that the NSC Special Committee on Atomic Energy had confirmed the necessity for the expansion program. The President’s letter concluded as follows: “I wish to urge upon you and your committee the importance to this Nation and the rest of the free world of undertaking this expansion program without delay.” For the full text of the letter, released by the White House on May 29, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Harry S. Truman, 1952–53, pp. 384–385.

  2. Not found.
  3. See the memorandum for the President, Jan. 17, p. 851.
  4. Not found.