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The transfer of scientific and technical information has been a driving
force for development of atomic energy ever since 0. R. Frisch and L.
Meitner early in 1939 speculated that absorption of a neutron by a uranium
nucleus sometimes caused fission. The role of information exchang
News of this speculation was brought to the United
States in January 1939 by Niels Bohr who at once communicated this idea to
his former student, J.A. Wheeler and others at Princeton. From them the
news spread by word of mouth to neighboring physicists, including E. Fermi at Columbia University. By January 26, 1939, the fission process was discussed at a conference on theoretical physics in Washington, D.C. Be
fore this meeting was over, experiments had confirmed that neutrons could
initiate fission and other confirmations were reported in the February 15,
1939, issue of Physical Review. From then on there was a steady flow of papers on fission. The scientific community itself soon attempted to stop publication of further data by voluntary agreement because of military im
plications but was not able to do so for about a year, * The voluntary control of 1940 was soon supplanted by government controls and restrictions as the wartime atom bomb project began to move. Information on military
* Professor Smyth in his famous report noted that in the spring of 1939 a small group of foreign-born physicists in the United States attempted to stop publication of further data on fission by voluntary agreement. Leading American and British physicists agreed, but F. Joliot, France's foremost nuclear physicist, refused, apparently because of the publication of one letter in the Physical Review sent in before all Americans had been brought into agreement. Consequently, publication continued freely for about another year although a few papers were withheld voluntarily by their authors. Cf., H. D. Smythe. Atomic energy for military purposes. Princeton; Princeton University Press, 1945, p. 45.
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and civil uses of nuclear energy was held secret, and Congress in the Atomic
Energy Act of 1946 continued this secrecy and the premise that certain in
formation was born classified and subject to strict control.
In the Atomic
Energy Act of 1946, Congress in an extraordinary grant of peacetime author
ity gave the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission control over the dissemi
nation of testricted data" in such a manner as to "assure the common defense and security."* "Restricted data" was defined to include information
relating to civil use of nuclear power. **
In the Act, Congress limited in
ternational exchange of information on industrial nuclear power, but en
couraged the dissemination of scientific and technical information relating to uses other than weapons and industrial power.
The policies of the United States for exchange of information and tech
nology for atomic energy is characterized by two distinct phases.
1946 to 1954 the national policy sought to confine and prevent the export of
U.S. nuclear information and technology. From 1954 to the present national
policy has emphasized the benefits of such transfers and has promoted them.
The era of restricted transfer: 1946-1954
After the rejection in the United Nations of the U.S. proposals for in
ternational control and development of atomic energy (the Acheson-Lilien
* Section 10(a) of the Atomic Energy Act of 1946. ** The 1946 Act defined "restricted data" to mean "...all data concerning the manufacture or utilization of atomic weapons, the production of fissionable material, or the use of fissionable material in the production of power, but shall not include any data which the Commission from time to time determines may be published without adversely affecting the common defense and security.
thal report and the Baruch Plan), the United States sought to bar the export
of U.S. technology for nuclear weapons and power. Beginning with the Atom
ic Energy Act in 1946, there followed almost a decade of secrecy and severe
limitations upon exports and international cooperation,
While the Atomic Energy Act of 1946 did contemplate sharing of infor
mation concerning the practical industrial applications of atomic energy with other countries, this was prohibited until "effective and enforceable safe
guards against its use for destructive purposes (could) be devised," This
statutory condition never was fulfilled and the restrictions of the Act ended
the wartime nuclear collaboration of the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and Belgium. The only cooperation permissible in 1946 was for
exploration for uranium ores and their procurement. Five years later Con
gress slightly relaxed the restrictions by authorizing the Atomic Energy
Commission to exchange certain information with other countries about the
"refining, purification and subsequent treatment of source materials, reactor development, production of fissionable material, and research and de
In this amendment Congress laid down four limitations for
U. S. technical assistance in nuclear energy limitations that have become the foundation for negotiation and approval of agreements for cooperation.
These limitations were:
(1) a prohibition against communication of weapons design and fa
* Public Law 82-235, 65 Stat. 692, 1951.
(2) a requirement for adequate security standards in countries re
ceiving classified information;
(3) a determination by the President that the arrangements would
promote and would not endanger the common defense and security;
(4) a requirement that the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy be informed of the arrangement 30 days prior to its consummation.
The era of open exchanges: 1954 to the present
By 1954 the impetus of the Atoms for Peace Program of President Eisen
hower and the failure of U.S. restrictions on international nuclear coopera
tion to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons abroad combined with techno
logical optimism for the future
of nuclear power to reverse U.S. policy
on exchange of nuclear information and cooperation.
International cooperation in nuclear energy. --When Congress rewrote the Atomic Energy Act in 1954, it greatly expanded the prospects for inter
national cooperation in civil nuclear energy. * The Act includes major pro
visions in section 54 for the United States to distribute special nuclear ma
Under the Energy Reorganization Act of 1974, this distribution
function was assigned to the Energy Research and Development Agency. **
Section 54 limits such distribution to nations or groups of nations with an
agreement for cooperation with the United States. Also, with one exception,
the Energy Research and Development Administration is to be compensated
* The Atomic Energy Act of 1954, P.L. 83-703, 68 Stat. 919.
** The Energy Reorganization Act of 1974, P.L. 93-438, 88 Stat. 1233.
for special nuclear materials distributed at not less than ERDA published
Also, ERDA is authorized to enter into contracts to provide for
the producing or enriching of special nuclear materials in its facilities for
exports to nations or organizations with an agreement for cooperation.*
Section 54 authorizes the Energy Research and Development Adminis
tration to distribute to the International Atomic Energy Agency, or to any
group of nations, only such amounts of special nuclear materials and for
such periods of time as are authorized by Congress.
Section 54 also provides for repurchase of special nuclear materials
distributed under a sale, and to purchase special nuclear materials produced through use of special nuclear materials which were sold or leased.
U.S. agreements for cooperation in atomic energy. --When Congress rewrote the Atomic Energy Act in 1954, it greatly expanded the prospects for
international cooperation in civil nuclear energy, but within specific statu
tory restriction. Section 123 of the Act provides approaches to international
cooperation by forbidding cooperation with any nation or regional defense
organization until four conditions are fulfilled.
These four conditions are:
(1) ERDA has submitted to the President the proposed agreement
for cooperation, together with its recommendations thereon;
(2) The President has approved and authorized the execution of
the proposed agreement and has made a determination in writing
that "the performance
he proposed agreement will promote and
* The Atomic Energy Act of 1954, Section 161(v)(B).