126. Letter from Seaborg to President Kennedy, April 121

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Dear Mr. President:

The purposes of this letter are to confirm the schedule of nuclear tests proposed for the atmospheric testing program, to obtain your approval to implement the program, and to obtain your approval for the expenditure of the special nuclear materials to be expended in the test series.

The proposed atmospheric nuclear test program of 26 events, plus two contingency items, is submitted as Enclosure 2. The justification for all events has been furnished to you or your staff in previous correspondence, as shown in Enclosure 3.

The program proposed in Enclosure 2 is considered firm as of this date; however, it must be recognized that flexibility to add, substitute, or otherwise modify the program must be retained if maximum information is to be accrued from the test series. Also, in view of the extremely compressed schedule of events, it should be noted that the execution of certain shots may extend into July. While no major changes to the program are foreseen at this time, I shall, if the need arises during the execution of the series, request your approval of any such changes.

Please note that Enclosure 2 lists two contingency items. Devices are being readied for these contingency events, but will not be fired unless experimental results show this to be necessary. In any event, the contingency items will not be detonated until after your staff has been notified.

The Commission is satisfied that adequate precautions are now planned by Joint Task Force Eight for all air drop events in the vicinity of Christmas Island and for the rocket-launched, high-altitude tests to be conducted from Johnston Island. The Commission has reviewed the operational plans for the test program from the point of view of our responsibility for over-all public health and safety for all of the proposed [Facsimile Page 2] tests, except the system test of the ATLAS (ANGEL FIRE). Detailed discussion of the plans for the ATLAS system test is planned in the near future. Safety aspects of the remaining proposed systems tests—ASROC and POLARIS, as well as ATLAS—are currently being studied by the Department of Defense; we will consider these further when this study is completed by DoD.

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In order to conduct the atmospheric test program, consisting of the DOMINIC events in the Pacific and the SMALLBOY event in Nevada, it will be necessary to expend [text not declassified].

I wish to call to your attention the Department of Defense POLARIS and ATLAS systems tests included in the series; the ASROC test could also be considered a test of this type, although its major purpose is to obtain effects information. There is a finite, though not predictable, probability that one or more of these tests may malfunction to the extent that the missile will have to be aborted prior to fulfillment of its mission—in which case the warhead, with its special nuclear materials, would probably be lost by burial deep at sea. The materials expenditure authority requested above does not take into account such malfunctions, but includes only those materials considered necessary for satisfactory execution of the nuclear detonations of the test program. I do not plan to request your authorization for additional materials in event of such a malfunction, but will assume authorization for the materials involved from your approval of this letter. You will, of course, be advised of any systems mishaps.

Respectfully yours,

Glenn T. Seaborg
  1. Atmospheric testing program issues. Secret. 2 pp. Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Nuclear Weapons Testing, 4/5/62–7/30/62.