230 Minutes of Meeting of Prime Ministers

PMM(46) 11th Meeting, Confidential Annex LONDON, 3 May 1946



THE Meeting had before them a note by the Secretaries (P.M.M.(46)19) to which was annexed- (i) a note on United Kingdom arrangements for research and development work on atomic energy;

(ii) a note on the proposals for the international control of atomic energy.

MR. ATTLEE said that, in view of the delicate negotiations which were at present in progress between the United Kingdom Government and the Governments of the United States and Canada on the subject of atomic energy, it was important that there should be no public disclosure that this matter had been discussed in the course of the present consultations.

On the question of research and development, the Dominion Ministers were aware that our work had been based upon the close partnership with the Canadian and United States Governments which had grown up during the war. Much of the information which we possessed derived in part from American and Canadian sources and we were, therefore, bound to act in agreement with them in the use which we made of it. We had not yet negotiated a revision of our war-time agreement with the Americans and they were naturally anxious, on the one hand, that proceedings before the United Nations Commission on Atomic Energy should not be prejudiced by any fresh bilateral understanding, and on the other that knowledge of American origin should not be spread to a wider circle in advance of concessions which they might have to make as a result of recommendations of the Commission. We were still hoping to reach an understanding with them providing for the full exchange of scientific and technical information between us; but the position was delicate and there were at present limitations on our freedom of action. Subject to these limitations, we were most anxious that there should be the fullest possible co-operation between the Governments of the Commonwealth.

Such co-operation might be concerned with any of the following:-

(a) Fundamental scientific research.

(b) Production of raw materials.

(c) Large-scale plants for the production of fissile material.

The position with regard to the international control of atomic energy was set out in Annex II to P.M.M.(46)19. The United Nations Commission had not yet begun its deliberations, and its first task would be to consider what effective safeguards could be devised, by way of inspection and other means, to protect complying States against the hazards of violations and evasions. Mr. Attlee said that, in general, he was inclined to be sceptical about the possibility of control through an international inspectorate, and felt that in practice it would probably be necessary to build up any system of international control by stages.

Mr. Attlee then invited Lord Portal to make a statement on the United Kingdom atomic energy project.

LORD PORTAL made a full statement explaining the lines on which it was proposed that the Harwell Research Establishment should be developed and the progress already made with the setting up of the establishment. Research and development work on a considerable scale was expected to start there early next year and the existing plans for the whole establishment should have been substantially implemented by July 1947. He emphasised that the services of any scientists from the Dominions who were considered by Dominion Governments to be suitable for the work and could be spared for a time would be warmly welcomed at Harwell. He hoped that Dominion Ministers would accept in principle the temporary posting of suitable men for a period of service at Harwell after which they would return to their own country, and that in view of the difficulty of direct recruitment at such a great distance, each Government would accept responsibility for selecting and paying their own scientists during the period of attachment. If this form of co-operation were approved in principle, the details could be discussed at the official level.

Lord Portal explained that the supply of raw materials had a powerful bearing on policy and that investigations carried out in recent months tended to show that previous estimates had been optimistic. We had a fairly clear picture of where substantial supplies of uranium were likely to be found and there had been informal discussions with representatives of the Dominions on the question of carrying out raw material surveys within the Commonwealth.

With regard to the preparations for large-scale production in the United Kingdom, the headquarters of the production organisation had been set up at Risley in Lancashire and the necessary staff was being recruited. Design work was in hand for the plant required for the production of uranium metal which would be carried out at Springfields, near Preston, and the fundamental research work into the processes used in the purification of uranium ores and the manufacture of uranium metal had been carried out. On the basis of this, negotiations for the purchase of the various raw materials which were required for the processes had in some cases been completed and in other cases were actively in hand. It was hoped that production operations would start at the Springfields factory in September 1947 and that the first uranium metal would be produced at about the end of that year. Preliminary consideration had also been given to the question of selecting a site for the pile and the plutonium separation plant, though it would be necessary to operate the uranium metal fabrication plant for a year before sufficient stocks of metal to start the pile were available. A great deal of other fundamental organisation work was going on at Risley and steps such as the standardisation of engineering stores, the development of systems for purchasing, progressing and programming, and estimating are well advanced.

MR. CHIFLEY said that there was some reason to believe that there might be in Australia substantial deposits of thorium which could supplement the available supplies of uranium. It was hoped to carry out a more careful survey with a view to determining what quantities of materials were available and meantime the Australian Government had already taken powers to protect the available supplies of thorium from exploitation. He asked whether there was not a danger that too much of the limited supplies of fissile material available would be devoted to warlike developments, with the result that possible industrial development would be handicapped. On the question of international control, it had to be borne in mind that any scheme of control could be vitiated by failure to co-operate on the part of any one of the States concerned.

DR. EVATT pointed out that the Lilienthal Report on the International Control of Atomic Energy [1] seemed likely to form the basis of the proposals which would be put before the United Nations Commission by the United States Government. These proposals might not be acceptable to other nations since the implicit assumption in them was that the United States would not share any information with regard to use of atomic energy for warlike purposes with other nations until such time as these other nations could in any event have obtained the information for themselves. With regard to the proposal that an International Atomic Energy Development Authority should be set up to conduct all intrinsically dangerous operations in the nuclear field, the success of this would seem to depend on the effectiveness of the proposals for denaturing fissile material, as to which scientific opinion appeared to be sceptical.

FIELD-MARSHAL SMUTS said that, although the original estimates made by the Americans of the uranium deposits in South Africa had been too optimistic, he believed that in fact the amount available in South Africa would be found to be higher than had been suggested in the later reports made by British investigators. He was anxious that the world's supplies of material, which, so far as could be seen, were limited, should be used to the best advantage. He was most sceptical about the success of any scheme of international control, since all the proposals which he had so far seen appeared to be incompatible with the existing conception of national sovereignty. He felt, therefore, that the British Commonwealth should not place too much reliance on the outcome of the proposals for international control and that in the meantime every effort should be made to promote research and development and to find sources of raw materials within the Commonwealth. He hoped that it would not be found that the United States were monopolising all the available Canadian supplies.

MR. NASH said that a recent expedition to a remote part of the west coast of New Zealand had given some reason to hope that some supplies of raw material would be found in New Zealand. The New Zealand Government favoured international control and felt that the right line of advance was that suggested by the Washington Declaration [2], namely, the consolidation and extension of the authority of the United Nations Organisation and the creation of conditions of mutual trust in which all people would be free to devote themselves to works of peace. Unless an advance could be made on these lines he did not believe that mere fear of the results of the use of atomic weapons would deter an aggressor. At the same time he agreed that in the meantime the members of the Commonwealth should safeguard their position by developing the resources available to them.

MR. NOEL-BAKER said that he had been in the United States when the Lilienthal Report had been published. The conclusions in the report had not yet been accepted by the United States Government, but it was not unlikely that they would be put forward by the United States Government to the United Nations Commission, and it might be that the concept of an International Atomic Energy Development Authority would promote that spirit of international goodwill and co-operation which was the essential basis of any scheme of international control.

MR. ATTLEE said that the general feeling of the meeting seemed to be that the members of the British Commonwealth should lend their support to the establishment of a scheme for international control under the aegis of the United Nations Organisation. At the same time, however, it had to be recognised that the successful working out of such a scheme was problematical, and it was essential that we should go ahead in the meantime with research and development and with the exploitation of raw material resources within the British Commonwealth. For this purpose it was desirable that all the raw material possibilities in the Commonwealth should be fully surveyed, and he hoped also that Dominion Governments would be willing to help forward the United Kingdom programme of research and development by lending scientists to serve for agreed periods with the team at Harwell. He thought there was general agreement that we should do all we could to co-operate together in these matters.

1 On 7 January Byrnes appointed a committee (the Secretary of State's Committee on Atomic Energy), chaired by Acheson, 'to study the subject of controls and safeguards necessary to protect this Government so that the persons hereafter selected to represent the United States on the [Atomic Energy] Commission can have the benefit of the study'. This Committee in turn appointed a Board of Consultants, chaired by the Chairman of the Tennessee Valley Authority, David Lilienthal. The Board's report, A Report on the International Control of Atomic Energy, March 16 1946, known informally as 'The Acheson-Lilienthal Report', was presented to Byrnes on 17 March and released On 28 March. See Foreign Relations of the United States, 1946, vol. I pp. 761-4.

2 Volume VIII, Document 393.

[PRO:CAB 133/86]