32. Memorandum of a Conversation, United States Mission at the United Nations, New York, May 20, 19551


  • U.S. Initiative in UN on Radiation Effects


  • The Secretary of State
  • Under Secretary Herbert Hoover Jr.,
  • Assistant Secretary David McK. Key
  • Deputy Asst. Secretary D. W. Wainhouse
  • S/AE—Mr. Gerard C. Smith
  • AEC
  • Admiral Lewis L. Strauss
  • USUN
  • Amb. Henry Cabot Lodge
  • Brig. Gen. C. S. Babcock
  • Mr. James W, Barco

The Secretary referred to the announcement of the Foreign Minister of Sweden that his Government intends to propose UN action to investigate the radiation effects of nuclear tests.2 He pointed out also that India has announced its intention of raising this question in the Disarmament Commission.3 He said that we had been thinking that it would be in our interest to take the initiative in the UN on this subject and guide it in a direction not harmful to us. He had in mind proposing that national studies be submitted to the Disarmament Commission for collection and dissemination. He asked Admiral Strauss if he saw any objection to such an initiative on our part.

Admiral Strauss said that he did see objection and that he would like to explain why. Any report by an international body would be considered by a packed jury and, if it were adopted, the finding would undoubtedly be adverse to our possession of nuclear weapons. Admiral Strauss said, to avoid this, he would rather accept the onus of opposing anything introduced by Sweden, India or others. Admiral Strauss explained further that investigation of the effects of radiation on human genetics would probably not reveal anything for a long period of time, possibly for two hundred years. Tests that have been conducted during the last seven years with higher animal life had produced no conclusions. He pointed out that the use of antibiotics in modern medicine might be producing mutations4 more serious than [Page 91] radiation, inasmuch as tolerance to certain diseases was being built up, but we would not know the results for many years. Admiral Strauss felt that not only would the results of investigation prove inconclusive but he feared that, to make an investigation on an international scale would lead us into dangerous paths where demands for cessation of nuclear tests and the disclosure of information concerning our weapons would possibly result. We could not afford to be put in a position where we would have to agree either to cease tests as the result of political pressures or disclose information concerning our weapons to the danger of our national security.

Admiral Strauss also pointed out that the Atomic Energy Commission had requested the National Academy of Sciences to undertake a thorough investigation of radiation effects, that this investigation was underway, and when it was finished a report would be made public.5 The only data in the report which would not be made public would involve information concerning our secret weapons. He therefore concluded that there was no need for action in this field beyond what we were already doing.

Ambassador Lodge asked Admiral Strauss if he would object to making the report of the National Academy of Sciences available to the UN. Admiral Strauss said that he would have no objection to doing this. Ambassador Lodge said that this was all we were proposing, that is, that States with experience in the atomic field should make reports to a UN body such as the Disarmament Commission which would collate these reports and disseminate them. This left the determination of what was to be included in the report in the hands of the national Governments, in our own case, in the hands of the Atomic Energy Commission. He felt if Admiral Strauss had no objection to this, we were in fact in agreement on what should be done. Admiral Strauss said that he objected to any international investigation. Ambassador Lodge said that we did not propose an investigation by an international body. The investigations would be in the hands of the Governments and they would report what they saw fit on the basis of their own findings. They could in fact do this anyway. In reply to the Secretary’s question, Admiral Strauss said he felt he could live with such an arrangement.

The Secretary recalled that the International Council of Scientific Unions had been proposed as an appropriate body to undertake the collection of reports.6 He felt, however, that the International Council [Page 92] of Scientific Unions was not subject to sufficient control to be entrusted with the job.

It was pointed out that there might be objection in some quarters to the use of the Disarmament Commission as the body to which the reports would be made. This was based principally on a desire to differentiate this subject from disarmament and to avoid giving the appearance of a piecemeal approach to disarmament. The Secretary also pointed out that establishing an Ad Hoc body raised the question of membership in the body with the inevitable logrolling, and that our experience in the UN indicated we would be best off with an established body such as the Disarmament Commission on which India was not now represented. It was the consensus that the Disarmament Commission was the most readily controlled body available and should be used. Our experience also showed, the Secretary felt, that we were better off in the UN when we ourselves took the initiative instead of trying to oppose or offer amendments to others’ initiative.

It was understood that the timing of submission of the national reports would be in the hands of the national Governments although the timing of taking the initiative in the UN setting up the system of reports was important if we were to forestall initiative by others, possibly at San Francisco and at the Geneva Conference on Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy. It was also suggested that if a final report were not to be made immediately we could submit information now already in hand on an interim basis.

The Secretary suggested that Ambassador Lodge might revise the resolution previously drafted in the Department to take into account the views expressed at this meeting and send the revised version to him and Admiral Strauss. Ambassador Lodge agreed to do this.7

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 700.5611/5–2055. Secret. No drafting information is given on the source text. A shorter memorandum of this meeting, drafted by Gerard Smith, is ibid., Atomic Energy Files: Lot 57 D 688, 10th General Assembly.
  2. This May 4 announcement was reported in telegram 981 from Stockholm, May 5. (Ibid., Central Files, 700.5611/5–555)
  3. Not further identified.
  4. Strauss asked that the remainder of the sentence after the word “mutations” be stricken and the following language be added instead: “in disease germs and bacteria which were resistant to antibiotics and potentially as dangerous to human health as the radiation hazard.” (Memorandum from John A. Hall to Gerard Smith, June 1; Department of State, Atomic Energy Files: Lot 57 D 688, 10th General Assembly)
  5. On April 8, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences announced that it was undertaking a study of the effect of radiation on living organisms, and the AEC said it would cooperate with the National Academy in this study. See The New York Times, April 9.
  6. On May 12; FOSTER proposed that the International Council of Scientific Unions study the effects of radiation. Lodge approved the idea. (Memorandum of conversation, May 12; Department of State, Atomic Energy Files: Lot 57 D 688, Radiation and Fallout)
  7. Both the draft resolution, dated May 18, and Lodge’s redraft, dated May 24, are ibid., 10th General Assembly.