60. Memorandum of Conference With President Eisenhower0


  • Secretary McElroy, General Loper, Dr. George E. Pugh, Vice Admiral John H. Sides, Dr. Charles A. Boyd, Col. Charles Stewart, Chairman McCone, General Starbird, Dr. Dunning, Mr. Gordon Gray, General Goodpaster

Mr. Gray said the group had come together to give the President an oral report in response to a question the President had asked some weeks ago—what would be the effects if the United States and the Soviets were to expend their atomic stockpiles on each other. Dr. Pugh1 began, with a presentation based upon reciprocal attacks aggregating some 10,000 megatons. The immediate effects in the two target countries would be tremendous, generally in accord with the findings of previous presentations on this subject. Losses would be cut in half by making use of the best available shelter existing today, as against being caught wholly unprepared. There would be subsequent effects lasting for varying periods of time up to thirty or forty years in some locations, the total magnitude of which would be of some small fraction (1/10 to 1/4) of the initial losses. In allied territories also attacked the pattern would be similar. In “fringe areas” the initial effects would vary, depending on wind conditions and upon special measures of restraint as to size and number of weapons detonated in target areas nearby; by observance of measures of restraint, [Page 219] losses of an initial character in these areas could be kept almost negligible in relation to the losses in the target areas. As to long-term effects, worldwide, these would be extremely small in relation to initial losses in the target areas, and in fact would be only a small fraction of natural radiation effects on the human race now being experienced.2

Dr. Dunning of the AEC followed up with a briefing oriented more specifically to the medical aspects. The gist of his presentation was also that effects outside the target areas, even for attacks of these magnitudes, would be extremely small in relation to the losses within the target areas. He pointed out that the long-term effects would be felt to a very large extent within the band of the Northern hemisphere between 30–60° north latitude.

There was brief discussion after the presentation. The President recalled that his request in response to which this study had been made was as a result of last October’s tests, which resulted in localized fall-out in the Minnesota area which doubled the expected strontium dose. This raised the question in his mind of what might be the possible consequences of the world-wide fall-out in the case of a full-scale atomic attack.

Dr. Dunning said that no wheat or milk in the area affected had to be destroyed. The localized concentrations occurred when fall-out clouds ran into rain storms which deposited the material. He repeated that, in case of all-out warfare, the world-wide effects of fall-out would be infinitesimal in relation to the losses occasioned in the target areas.

A. J. Goodpaster3
Brigadier General, USA
  1. Source: Eisenhower Library, NSC Staff Records, Executive Secretary’s Subject File. Secret. Drafted by Goodpaster.
  2. Of the Weapons Systems Evaluation Group, Department of Defense.
  3. A text of Dr. Pugh’s briefing, entitled “The Effects of Radioactive Fallout in Nuclear War,” dated June 24, is in the Eisenhower Library, NSC Staff Records, Executive Secretary’s Subject File.
  4. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.