Learn about the beta

47. Memorandum of Discussion at the 255th Meeting of the National Security Council, Washington, July 14, 19551

[Here follow a paragraph listing the participants at the meeting and agenda items 1–3.]

4. Nuclear Energy Projects and Related Information Programs (NSC 5431/1; NSC 5507/2; Progress Report, dated June 20, 1955, by the OCB on the subject)2

Mr. Anderson3 briefed the Council on the high points of this progress report and then asked Admiral Strauss if he wished to make additional comments (copy of Mr. Anderson’s brief filed in the minutes of the meeting).

Admiral Strauss stated that on next Monday at West Milton, New York we would begin to sell electric power from the reactor there which had been the prototype for the submarine propulsion unit. The electric power generated by this reactor, said Admiral Strauss, would be sold to a private power company (Niagara-Mohawk) at the rate of three mills, fixed by the Federal Power Commission in the light of prevailing rates in this region of New York State. This meant that on Monday there would go into action the first commercial use of atomic power. Admiral Strauss said that he proposed to make as much of a play on this development as possible, stressing the theme of “swords into plowshares.”4

With feeling the President expressed the hope that as a result of what Admiral Strauss had described the Administration would not be charged with selling public power to a private company. Admiral Strauss re-assured the President on this point but the President said that he wanted to be dead sure that the first statement about the West Milton project was full and contained all the facts including the fact that we had been offered as much as eight mills for the electric power but had not taken it because the Federal Power Commission had established the rate of three mills. The President again earnestly requested Admiral Strauss to see that all the facts were given to the public straight in the initial statement. If this were the case he would [Page 161]stand by what was done but he declared that he did not wish to appear to be a fool because he was not acquainted with the background.

Admiral Strauss then said there were one or two other points in the progress report on which he wished to comment. He pointed out that the cut-off date for the report was June 15 and that quite a lot of encouraging progress had been made since that time. The number of schools for foreigners who wished to study atomic energy materials had increased in numbers. So likewise had the bilateral agreements between the United States and foreign countries in the atomic energy field. Indeed, said Admiral Strauss, tomorrow we expect that the three most important ones will come into effect; namely, with the United Kingdom, Belgium, and Canada.

Also since June 15, continued Admiral Strauss, the President had approved the allocation of 100 kilograms of U-235 for the purpose of providing fuel for the reactors which were scheduled to be built in the some twenty countries with which the U.S. had reached bilateral agreements.

As for the small-scale civilian power reactor which was called for in NSC 5507/2, Admiral Strauss said there was not much progress to report because so much of the time and talent which needed to be put into the construction of such a reactor had actually been devoted to the development of the small mobile reactor for the U.S. Army. Admiral Strauss added his regret that the Atomic Energy Commission had even been given a directive to produce such a small civilian power reactor, particularly in such a short period of time. He did not believe that there was really much of a substantial demand for such small-scale power reactors.

The President expressed sympathy for the difficulties which Admiral Strauss had reported and suggested that he provide the Council in the near future with a written report5 explaining the lack of progress on the small-scale civilian reactor on the grounds that the necessary time and talent had had to be devoted to the Army’s mobile reactor. The President thought that the point could be made that the experience gathered from the construction of the mobile reactor would subsequently be useful in the production of the civilian power reactor.

Admiral Strauss concluded his report of additional progress by stating that the project for the construction of an atomic reactor for use in a merchant vessel which had had such great difficulty was now about to get back on the ways.

[Page 162]

Secretary Humphrey reverted to Admiral Strauss’ statement about the reactor at West Milton, New York, and inquired whether the electric power generated in this reactor and sold for three mills would actually cover the production costs. Admiral Strauss replied that the operating costs were being paid by the General Electric Company, and that the reactor would be operated anyway in order to test it. The whole project had been set in operation for quite other than economic purposes, and it was particularly important to get the power reactor in operation prior to the opening of the Summit Conference. Admiral Strauss expressed the hope that while the President was at Geneva, he would also find time to take a look at the reactor which was being constructed there in time for the scientific meeting which opened on August 8.

The National Security Council:6

Noted and discussed the reference Progress Report on the subject by the Operations Coordinating Board, and an oral report by the Chairman, Atomic Energy Commission, on developments since the Progress Report was submitted.
Noted that the Chairman, Atomic Energy Commission, would submit a written report on the background and status of the small-output civilian power reactor referred to in para. 27–e of NSC 5507/2.

Note: The action in b above, as approved by the President, subsequently transmitted to the Chairman, AEC.

[Here follow the remaining agenda items.]

S. Everett Gleason
  1. Source: Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, NSC Records. Top Secret. Drafted by Gleason on July 15.
  2. Regarding NSC 5431/1, see footnote 2, Document 13. NSC 5507/2 is printed as Document 14. The OCB Progress Report is in Department of State, OCB Files: Lot 62 D 430, Atomic and Nuclear Energy.
  3. Dillon Anderson.
  4. For speeches by Senator Anderson and Strauss at the inauguration of the commercial use of atomic power at West Milton, New York, July 18, see Atoms for Peace Manual, pp. 533–538.
  5. Strauss’ written report, entitled “Report on the Status of the Small-Output Power Reactor”, referred to in paragraph 27–e of NSC 5507/2, undated, was presented to the NSC meeting on November 10. (Department of State, S/SNSC Files: Lot 63 D 351, NSC 5507 Series)
  6. Paragraphs a–b and the Note that follow constitute NSC Action No. 1424, approved by the President on July 15, 1955. (Ibid., S/SNSC (Miscellaneous) Files: Lot 66 D 95, NSC Actions)