6. Memorandum From the Legal Adviser (Chayes) to the Deputy Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (Johnson)1


  • White House Meeting Today Concerning Project Sulky2

As you know, a meeting was held today at the White House to discuss Project Sulky. The meeting was chaired by Mr. Hornig, in Mr. Bundy’s absence, and representatives from the Defense Department, the Army, AEC, and ACDA were present.3

The AEC, represented by Commissioners Seaborg and Palfrey, first presented its basic justification for the project: It will provide necessary [Page 14]information concerning cratering and dispersion of radioactive debris. In the view of the AEC the project is not objectionable under the Treaty on the ground that the risk of detection outside the territorial limits of the United States is minimum.

Mr. McCone questioned the compatibility of the project with the Treaty and indicated that in his view only an event which was intended to be fully contained was permitted under the Treaty.

The Defense Department was represented by Dr. Harold Brown who supported the AEC position. I pointed out that there were two aspects involved in the question whether the project violated the Treaty. First, the actual amount of radioactive debris that would travel beyond our borders and, second, the probability that such amount could be detected. There may be a Treaty violation even though no radioactive debris is detected beyond our borders, just as there can be a violation of a speeding limit even though no policeman sees it. On the other hand, we recognize that every underground nuclear explosion, no matter how fully contained, will produce some radioactive debris and that some of that debris will inevitably travel beyond our borders. The Treaty was obviously not intended to preclude all underground explosions. The question of detection is, therefore, a relevant, though not the only, consideration.

Dr. Scoville, the ACDA representative, questioned the project both on the ground of the Treaty and also because of the lack of a detailed analysis of future projects.

In response to Dr. Hornig’s question, Dr. Seaborg stated that the project could be delayed until the fall without impairing the Plowshare program if the AEC received some indication that the project would probably be actually carried out in the fall.

I was asked what the reaction abroad would be if the test turned out to be detectable. In essence I responded that there might well be adverse propaganda but that I doubted whether any nation, including the USSR, would denounce the Treaty as a result. I also commented upon the domestic-political factors involved in rejecting the project.

Dr. Hornig concluded the meeting by stating that he would discuss the matter with Mr. Bundy. There may be a further meeting on the subject. I will be in Europe for the next two weeks but have asked Leonard Meeker to keep in touch with the White House concerning this matter. He will inform you of any further developments.

  1. Source: Department of State, S/S-RD Files: Lot 71 D 171. Secret; Restricted Data. Drafted by Thomas Ehrlich (L). The meeting was held in the White House Situation Room. For another account of this meeting, see Seaborg, Journal, Vol. 7, p. 348. Seaborg’s version gives the time and place of the meeting.
  2. Seaborg earlier explained the rationale for Project Sulky, which was a proposed Plowshare excavation nuclear test the AEC wanted to conduct at the Nevada Test Site in late February 1964, in a letter to McGeorge Bundy, January 15. Seaborg requested that the proposed test be considered by the Review Committee on Underground Nuclear Tests and submitted to the President for his decision. (Department of State, S/S-RD Files: Lot 71 D 171)
  3. The following attended the meeting: Donald Hornig (Chairman), Seaborg, Chayes, Pete Scoville, McCone (for first 15 minutes), Charles Johnson, Howard, Harold Brown, Keeny, Jackson, Fred Schuldt, AEC Commissioners Palfrey and Tape, Thomas, John Kelly, and other military representatives. (Seaborg, Journal, Vol. 7, p. 348)