74 Record of Meeting Held at Department of External Affairs

Canberra, 10 September 1965


Record of meeting held in Department of External Affairs Conference Room on the 10th September, 1965, addressed by Mr Palfrey1 and Mr Hall2 from the United States Atomic Energy Commission.

Main subjects discussed:

  1. Plowshare Experiments.3
  2. Proliferation of nuclear weapons.
  3. I.A.E.A. Safeguards.
  4. U.S. Bilateral Safeguards Agreements.
  5. U.S./Indonesian Atomic Energy Arrangements.
  6. Miscellaneous.

The meeting was chaired by Mr Renouf of Department of External Affairs and was attended by Mr Timbs, Executive Member of the Australian Atomic Energy Commission and representatives of the Department of External Affairs. Mr Griffith (Prime Minister's Department) and Mr Sargeant (National Development) also attended.

The following is a summary of the main points made by Mr Palfrey and Mr Hall.

  1. Plowshare experiments

    Mr Palfrey said that there was some uncertainty as to how far Plowshare experiments would be able to go. He recalled that, in its Declaration accepting the partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, the United States Senate provided in express terms that its agreement was only being given on the understanding that Plowshare experiments for peaceful purposes would be continued. The U.S. Atomic Energy Commission was at present uncertain of exactly what would be possible under Plowshare but hoped that in the years to come progress could be made. At the present time the Atomic Energy Commission was concerned with two nuclear aspects. First, to develop cleaner devices which would result in minimal radioactive debris; and secondly, it was paying a good deal of attention to the possibility of conducting cratering explosions which would be useful for large earth moving works. Mr Palfrey said that it was hoped that some agreement might be reached with the Soviet Union which would allow such Plowshare projects to go ahead. Soundings had already been made by United States scientists on this question, and Mr Harriman4 had also raised it in Moscow.

    2. Mr Palfrey was less clear on the possibility of using Plowshare explosions to excavate harbours, for instance as part of any project which might be undertaken to construct an alternative to the Panama Canal. Such ideas were themselves attractive, but there was no agreed interpretation of whether they were possible or not. It was certain that radioactive debris would go beyond the territorial limits of a state in which such an explosion might be conducted, and, as such, this would appear to make harbour excavation a breach of the Treaty. The question of what level of radioactive fall-out constituted debris in the terms of the Treaty was a matter on which there was no agreed interpretation.

  2. Proliferation of nuclear weapons

    3. Mr Palfrey outlined the U.S. position on the proliferation of nuclear weapons in familiar terms. He said that there had been considerable advances in technology which would enable detection of experiments in other countries. Some inspection was however still necessary. He spoke of the tremendous planned increase in installed nuclear power capacity in the next 2 to 5 years, and commented that this could well create problems of holding the line on the number of nuclear powers. The U.S. was concerned to do whatever it could to prevent such a proliferation. This brought him to the question of safeguards against diversion of peaceful nuclear activities to military purposes which the U.S. regarded as one of a number of ways which should be fully explored to help prevent undesirable proliferation of nuclear weapons.

  3. I.A.E.A. Safeguards

    4. At this stage Mr Hall, who has been closely connected with the development of U.S. initiatives on safeguards, took over from Mr Palfrey. He explained how U.S. moves from 1956 to 1962 in the safeguards field had met with considerable difficulties. Since 1962 however the Soviet Union had changed its previous uncooperative attitude, and the point had now been reached where, early in 1965, the Soviet Union had actually supported the I.A.E.A. safeguards scheme at the Board of Governor's meeting. Similar support was given by the Soviet satellite countries. In answer to a question, Mr Hall agreed that the acceptance, in principle, by the U.S.S.R. of I.A.E.A. safeguards did not necessarily mean that the Russians would accept international inspection of their own peaceful nuclear activities. He added however that tentative talks had indicated that the Czechs and Russians might, in fact, consider placing some of their facilities under I.A.E.A. safeguards.

    5. In answer to a further question, Mr Palfrey commented that all of the nuclear fuel which was available to the Soviet satellite countries was returned to the U.S.S.R. for reprocessing. In addition to their physical military hold over satellite countries, this provided an additional measure of U.S.S.R. controlled safeguards in respect of nuclear materials in the hands of the East Europeans.

[matter omitted]5

[NAA: A1838, 919/19 part 1]