134. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Meeting in Myer Feldman’s Office re Desalination


  • Myer Feldman, White House
  • Commissioner Ramey, AEC
  • Bill Williams, AEC
  • Kermit Gordon, Bureau of the Budget
  • Assistant Secretary Holum, Department of Interior
  • Mr. Chase, Department of Interior
  • Dr. Donald F. Hornig,OST
  • Mr. Komer, White House Staff
  • Mr. Jernegan, NEA, Department of State
  • Mr. Pollack, SCI, Department of State

Mr. Feldman announced that he had called a meeting in his office to coordinate the various actions taking place domestically and internationally regarding desalination. At a later point in the meeting he stated that he envisaged desalination becoming one of the planks of President [Page 241] Johnson’s “Great Society” program and that he was seeking the basis for a major Presidential message on this subject next spring.

The discussion ranged over many aspects of desalination. It revealed that the desalination budget for Fiscal Year 1966 was entirely for research and development—Interior’s plans called for $33 million and AEC’s for $11 million. It was pointed out that although the Israelis were interested in having the desalination reactor based on the heavy water technique, both AEC and Interior were proceeding with a pressurized water reactor. Commissioner Ramey pointed out that the heavy water reactor would not be economically efficient unless an output of approximately three hundred million gallons a day was anticipated. Moreover, U.S. technology in the heavy water reactor is not yet developed.

There was some discussion of the problems inherent in attempting to extrapolate by a factor of 100 the current desalination technique. Extrapolations by a factor of four to five are much more customary and there seems to be general agreement that the next step upward should be a prototype plant capable of producing ten to fifteen million gallons a day.

In response to Mr. Feldman’s query about the nature of contemplated U.S. contributions to the Israeli project,2 both Mr. Holum and Mr. Ramey indicated that their agencies intended to follow a hard-headed business approach of relating their financial investment in the Israeli project to the technological information the U.S. might derive from the project. It was agreed that U.S. financial assistance to the Israelis on this project was a political question and should be approached as such. Commissioner Ramey reported that a joint U.S.-Mexico effort was in the offing and that discussions would begin when the new Administration in Mexico had settled into office. Technical discussions would also get under way with Egypt very shortly.3

Mr. Gordon made clear that neither the engineering firm about to be employed on the Israeli project nor the Joint Board being established to supervise engineering activities should discuss U.S. financial assistance to the Israeli Government.

Mr. Feldman stated that there was apparently a need for coordination of the several governmental interests in desalination both on a [Page 242] technical and on a policy level. Mr. Pollack reported on a pending proposal for the State Department to establish an inter-Departmental Committee to develop policy governing U.S. participation in international desalination projects including the nature of the financial arrangements. Mr. Feldman stated that he thought it was a good idea to proceed simultaneously at the engineering and the policy level and asked Mr. Pollack to send him some information on the contemplated Committee. He also suggested that Treasury should possibly be included on the Committee.

  1. Source: Department of State, SCI Files: Lot 71 D 483. Unclassified. Drafted by Pollack and cleared by Jernegan.
  2. On October 14 the United States and Israel signed a memorandum of understanding outlining the terms under which they would conduct a detailed feasibility study of a large-scale desalination plant in Israel. For text, see Department of State Bulletin, November 16, 1964, pp. 724–726.
  3. Documentation on U.S.-Mexican desalting agreements are scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, volume XXXI. A copy of the U.S.-UAR desalting cooperation agreement, June 1, 1965, is in the Johnson Library, National Security File, Charles E. Johnson Files, Nuclear Desalting of Water (Nuclear Power), 3 of 3.