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163 Rivett to Smith

Letter [MELBOURNE], 23 May 1944


I have your letter of May 22nd. [1] to which you attached a copy of cablegram No. 27, dated 17th May [2], addressed to the Acting Prime Minister by Mr. Curtin. For months past I have been expecting action along the lines recommended in this cablegram, and I am glad that at last some definite step is to be taken.

Certain secret information [3] has been coming through for some time about work which British and American physicists are carrying out on the element uranium, but it has been necessary to guard this very confidentially and I have maintained close contact only with my own Minister, Mr. Dedman, about it.

You will, I know, agree that we must take this matter very seriously and act promptly, and I want to suggest that a small group of people be asked to consider the whole situation as soon as possible, and advise whatever Ministry is chiefly concerned. I take it that, as this is a question of supply, you will be the authority handling the general issue.

There are two men in South Australia who can be particularly valuable at this stage. They are Mr. S. B. Dickinson, the Director of Mines (who is in close touch all the time with his predecessor, Dr. L. Keith Ward), and Professor Sir Douglas Mawson [4] of the University. As far as C.S.I.R. is concerned, Dr. Ian Wark [5] and Mr. R. G. Thomas [6] are the two people who can be most useful in the coming developments. It goes without saying that Dr. Raggatt [7] must play a leading part, and I would suggest that these five gentlemen be invited to confer, as soon as possible, about the matters set out in Mr. Curtin's cablegram.

Anything I can personally do to facilitate this work will be undertaken at once. You can rely upon C.S.I.R. to give very high priority to any problems arising out of the uranium work for which its staff and laboratories are suitable.

I should much appreciate it if you would keep me fully informed of the progress of events. [8]

1 Smith asked for advice as to what plant, equipment and finance would be required for research into concentrating uranium ore at Mount Painter and chemically processing ore at Radium Hill. See Smith's letter to Rivett of 22 May on file CSIRO: Series 380, item 3.

2 Document 154.

3 Rivett's principal sources of information concerning the development of atomic energy and the atomic bomb were Professor M.

Oliphant and later Dr Eric Burhop, who were connected with the Manhattan Project. See, in particular, Oliphant's 'Report on Uranium as a Source of Energy' of 27 August 1942, On file CSIRO Series 380, item 1.

4 Professor of Geology and Mineralogy, University of Adelaide.

5 Chief, Division of Industrial Chemistry, C.S.I.R.

6 Senior Inorganic Chemist, Division of Industrial Chemistry, C.S.I.R.

7 Dr H. G. Raggatt, Director, Mineral Resources Survey, Dept of Supply and Shipping.

8 On 23 May Rivett also wrote to Dedman in similar terms. See his letter on the file cited in note 1.

Last Updated: 11 September 2013

Category: International relations

Topic: History