The Acheson-Lilienthal Report


Functions of Atomic Development Authority

In the field of raw materials-- The first purpose of the agency will be to bring under its complete control world supplies of uranium and thorium. Wherever these materials are found in useful quantities the international agency must own them or control them under effective leasing arrangements. One of its principal tasks will be to conduct continuous surveys so that new deposits will be found and so that the agency will have the most complete knowledge of the world geology of these materials. It will be a further function of the agency constantly to explore new methods for recovering these materials from media in which they are found in small quantities.

In this way there will be no lawful rivalry among nations for these vital raw materials. Through its surveys the agency will be better informed about their geology and extraction than any single nation could possibly be. It will be in a better position to discover whether and where illicit operations might occur than any inspection force could possibly be. This is not to say that there is no risk of illicit operations; any plan, any system of safeguards, involves some risk. The question that must be answered in appraising the dangers is whether the risk is so large that it is better to make no attempt at international control and abandon the world to national atomic armament.

As we have pointed out earlier, if the Atomic Development Authority is the only agency which may lawfully operate in the raw materials field, then any visible operation by others will constitute a danger signal. This situation contrasts vividly with the conditions that would exist if nations agreed to conduct mining operations solely for proper purposes; for surreptitious abuse of such an agreement would be very difficult to detect. It is far easier to discover an operation that should not be going on at all than to determine whether a lawful operation is being conducted in an unlawful manner.

For the purpose of its surveys, the international agency would require access to various nations for its geologists and mining engineers. But the known geology of the critical materials is such that it may be possible to limit the degree of access from the start. And, as explorations proceed and various areas are eliminated it may be hoped that the need for access would narrow, rather than expand, but at all times the right of access to any region for re-survey in the light of new knowledge would be necessary.

All the actual mining operations for uranium and thorium would be conducted by the Authority. It would own and operate the refineries for the reduction of the ores to the metal or salt. It would own the stockpiles of these materials and it would sell the by-products, such as vanadium and radium. It would also provide the necessary supplies of uranium and thorium for the present limited commercial uses. All these sales would presumably go through normal commercial channels.

In the field of raw materials as in other activities of the Authority, extremely difficult policy questions, with the most serious social, economic, and political implications, will arise. How shall nations and individuals be compensated for reserves taken over by the Authority? As between several possible mines in different areas, which shall be operated when it is clear that the output of all is not presently required? How can a strategic balance be maintained between nations so that stockpiles of fissionable materials will not become unduly large in one nation and small in another? We do not suggest that these questions are simple but we believe that practical answers can be found. An attempt to suggest an approach to such answers is made later where the general question of policies of the Authority is discussed.

Production Plants -- The second major function of the Authority would be the construction and operation of useful types of atomic reactors and separation plants. This means that operations, like those at Hanford and Oak Ridge and their extensions and improvements, would be owned and conducted by the Authority. Reactors for producing denatured plutonium will be large installations and by the nature of the process they will yield large amounts of energy as a byproduct. As the technology of power development by this method expands, ways will be found for utilizing this power both as heat and as electricity. The existing plants are not designed to operate at a sufficiently high temperature for the energy to be used for the generation of electrical power. One of the first research and development problems of the Authority would be to develop designs of reactors such that the energy released would be in form usable for the generation of electric power.

These production plants are intrinsically dangerous operations. Indeed they may be regarded as the most dangerous, for it is through such operations that materials can be produced which are suitable for atomic explosives.

In addition to questions similar to these mentioned in the case of raw materials, many new ones suggest themselves in relation to such production plants. What measures can be taken to assure the minimum degree of danger in design of plants and output? What measures can be taken to assure the minimum danger of diversion? What measures can be taken to assure location of plants that both will permit the disposition of byproduct power and heat in areas where they are most needed and at the same time will maintain a strategic balance between nations so that none may be inspired with fear lest the existence of plants in another would give that nation an advantage if it suddenly developed aggressive intentions? How will the vast amounts of byproduct power be disposed of by an international agency operating geographically within a national economy? Like the questions previously stated, these are not easy to answer. But here again we think that answers can be found and we venture later to suggest a way of going about the process of formulating answers.

Research Activities-- We have already referred to the research that the Authority will conduct to extend the field of knowledge in relation to recoverable raw materials. We have referred to research in power development. There will be many other forms of research in which the Authority will have to engage, relating to simplifying reactors and the like.

Here we desire to emphasize that the field of research in its broadest sense is the field in which the greatest opportunities present themselves for national and private activities. For research in relation to the application of discoveries relating to atomic energy is a great area of work which in the context of the general plan of safeguards herein proposed is non-dangerous. For the reasons already indicated the Authority itself will have to engage in a wide variety of research activities. For example, one of the important things that the Authority will have to do is research in atomic explosives. We are by no means sure that important new discoveries in this field do not lie ahead. Possibly the study of atomic explosives may yield byproducts useful in peaceful activities. But this will not be the main purpose of the Authority's research. Only by preserving its position as the best informed agency will the Authority be able to tell where the line between the intrinsically dangerous and the non-dangerous should be drawn. If it turns out at some time in the future, as a result of new discoveries, that other materials lend themselves to dangerous atomic developments, it is important that the Authority should be the first to know. At that time measures would have to be taken to extend the boundaries of safeguards.

But, as we have said, it seems highly desirable that while conducting its own necessary research the Authority must not discourage but rather must give vigorous encouragement to research in national or private hands. The universities and public technical agencies, industrial enterprises, research institutes, all will have a direct interest in participating in these activities. A good example of the opportunities in this direction is afforded by considering the situation with respect to radioactive isotopes. It will be possible for the Authority to produce these isotopes in primary production plants. The chemical separation and purification of them, however, is an involved industrial process, but involves no threat to security; states or private organizations should be encouraged to go into these activities. But for many purposes it will also be possible to produce these isotopes in small non-dangerous reactors that can be safely operated by nations or private institutions. In the interest of avoiding over expansion of the international Authority, we think a deliberate effort should be made to encourage the production of isotopes in national hands.

It would be premature, of course, to seek now to draw any hard and fast line between the functions that the Authority should have in producing these isotopes and the functions which ought to be left to nations and their citizens. But it is important to be aware at all times of the necessity for taking advantage of the opportunity for promoting decentralized and diversified national developments and of avoiding unnecessary concentration of functions in the Authority. The field of research is an area in which the keenest awareness of this problem will be essential when the time comes to draft a charter and when thereafter the time comes for establishing the detailed administrative policies of the Authority.

Up to now we have been dealing with the exclusive proprietary functions of the Atomic Development Authority. Except as to the discussion just concluded we have been describing the things it must do wholly withdrawn from national hands. We tum now to a discussion of functions more regulatory than proprietary in character. These are the functions through which the agency will maintain moderate controls over the activities that will be conducted by nations or private agencies. For convenience we shall refer to these activities as "licensing" functions though we think that various devices besides licensing may in fact be developed to do the job.

Licensing Activities-- The uranium and thorium which the Authority mines and the fissionable materials which it produces will remain the property of the Authority. By such ownership the Authority could determine the conditions under which these dangerous materials might be used. Through the lease of such denatured materials to those desiring to build and operate reactors of various non-dangerous kinds, the personnel of the Authority could have access to the establishment in which such material is used. Moreover, through its own research and development activities and through establishing cooperative relationships with research and development laboratories in this field throughout the world, the Authority would be in a position to determine intelligently safe and unsafe designs of reactors for which it might lease its fissionable materials.

In the following paragraphs we shall refer to three of the general types of activities of great importance in the field of atomic energy which, as already indicated, are or can be made sufficiently safe to be carried on by nations under suitable arrangements with the proposed Authority. These types of activity, as we have pointed out earlier, open up a broad field for national and private exploitation of the useful applications of atomic energy. In particular, they will permit broad scope for research and development in this field by nations and private groups within such nations.

One of the first licensing activities of the Authority might be in the field of research reactors for which it would furnish on lease denatured plutonium or U 235. In carrying on such operations, presumably those desiring to build such research reactors would submit their designs to the Authority both for approval and for advice as to improvements, and would obtain a license to build such a reactor and lease of the denatured fissionable material needed for it. There would be a minimum of danger involved in allowing the construction and operation of research reactors not exceeding a prescribed power level. As we have seen, the amounts of fissionable material which might be produced through their use would be so small that for any individual unit, or even for units in one country which might number a dozen or more, there would be no real danger in terms of producing material sufficient for use in atomic explosives. Presumably the Authority from time to time would send its research personnel, in the dual role of research workers and inspectors, to the laboratories in which these reactors were used, but a minimal inspection would be needed. Moreover, such research reactors would fulfill to a large extent the urgent requirements for further intensive scientific research in this field. Presumably licenses and leases of material would be arranged between the Authority and individual nations so that the Authority would not be dealing directly with private groups within nations.

The Authority would also license and lease in the same manner as described for research reactors the construction and operation of reactors for making radioactive materials. There may well be, as suggested above, a field for the national or private production of such radioactive materials which will require a pile to produce materials for industrial and other peaceful uses. The fissionable materials leased by the Authority would always be in the form of denatured plutonium or U 235.

Within the next few years, the Authority should also be in a position to license the construction and operation of power piles and to furnish on lease denatured plutonium or U 235. The design of such piles would have to be carefully renewed, and the construction perhaps should be inspected by the Authority, to insure that the pile was not readily convertible to a dangerous form. For example, there should be no provision within such piles for the introduction of uranium or thorium. Iron or lead might be required as structural materials and if these were made non-removable, there would be a large factor of safety against abuse. Such power reactors would "burn" the active materials and require replenishing from time to time. The fissionable materials for such power reactors would be derived from the operation of the production plants of the Authority. There is no prospect that for several years such power reactors as described here could be licensed, for the reason that there would not be enough fissionable materials produced in the plants of the Authority. Thus there is a reasonable period during which research and development may proceed both in the laboratories of the Authority and in national and private groups throughout the world, as a result of which much more will be known as to the safe and unsafe features of design prior to the time when decisions will be required.

The questions of policy that arise in relation to the licensing activities of the Authority will likewise require the utmost in ingenuity and resourcefulness for their solution. How shall control be exercised lightly enough to assure the free play of national and private enterprise without risk to security? How shall facilities and materials available for national and private exploitation be allocated and at what cost? How may safe activities, assigned to national hands, be withdrawn if new discoveries show them to be dangerous? Again, we do not minimize the difficulties. We say only that we believe them to be of manageable proportions, and that techniques can be devised to facilitate solutions.

Inspection Activities-- Throughout this report we have recorded our conviction that international agreements to foreswear the military use of atomic weapons cannot be enforced solely by a system of inspection--that they cannot be enforced in a system which leaves the development of essentially dangerous activities in the field of atomic energy in national hands and subject to national rivalry, and, to insure against diversion of these activities to aggressive ends, relies upon supervision by an agency which has no other function. But inspection in a wide variety of forms has its proper place in the operations of the Atomic Development Authority--it has a proper and essential place. Sometimes it may take a form scarcely recognizable as inspection, but that may be regarded as one of the virtues of the proposal.

It may at the outset be useful to recall some of the factors which lead us to believe that as a function of the Atomic Development Authority inspection can be effective. We do not by this wish to suggest that the necessary inspection functions are trivial or that they can be carried out without inventiveness and effort. We do believe that the proposers of this report create a framework within which such inventiveness and such effort can be effective.

In the inspection of declared and legal activities--to be sure that they are really legal--it is of the greatest advantage that the operations can themselves be so conducted as to make this inspection and control easy. The Atomic Development Authority will have the double responsibility of technically effective development, and of safety. It would be in a position to insure that in the plan of operations, in the physical layout, in the system of audits, and in the choice of developments, full weight and full consideration can be given to the ease of detecting and avoiding diversion and evasion. Thus, the Authority may conceivably find it unwise to exploit certain types of deposits because of the difficulties they present to adequate auditing. The Authority may have reason to decide on one or another method of the separation of isotopes because it lends itself more readily to control. In the location of its operations, it will be in a position to take into account political and sociological factors which might make control difficult, or to allow such considerations to influence its choice of operating personnel and procedures. We attach great weight to the importance of unifying at the planning stage the requirements of development and control. We also attach great weight to the far-reaching inseparability of the two functions in the personnel of the development authority.

As we have pointed out repeatedly, the Authority will be aided in the detection of illegal operations by the fact that it is not the motive but the operation which is illegal. Any national or private effort to mine uranium will be illegal; any such stockpiling of thorium will be illegal; the building of any primary reactor or separation plant will be illegal. This circumstance is of very great importance for the following reason: It is true that a thoroughgoing inspection of all phases of the industry of a nation will in general be an unbearable burden; it is true that a calculated attempt at evasion may, by camouflage or by geographical location, make the specific detection of an illegal operation very much more difficult. But the total effort needed to carry through from the mine to the bomb, a surreptitious program of atomic armament on a scale sufficient to make it a threat or to make it a temptation to evasion, is so vast, and the number of separate difficult undertakings so great, and the special character of many of these undertakings so hard to conceal, that the fact of this effort should be impossible to hide. The fact that it is the existence of the effort rather then a specific purpose or motive or plan which constitutes an evasion and an unmistakable danger signal is to our minds one of the great advantages of the proposals we have outlined.

We have frequently emphasized the related difficulties of providing in an inspection agency personnel with the qualifications necessary for that work, and with enlightened and constantly improving understanding of the technical realities. We believe that these problems can be solved in an Atomic Development Authority to which is entrusted the technical exploration of the field, and in which inspection activities will be carried out in part by the very personnel responsible for the new developments and in part by the men of the same organization, who have access to, and who have an interest in, the research and development activities of the Authority. We do not wish to overemphasize the advantages that may arise from the free association of the Authority's scientists and experts with those engaged in private or national undertakings, but we believe that if a serious effort is made to cultivate this association it will greatly reduce the chance of evasive national or private action, or of the existence, unknown to the Authority, of technical developments which might constitute a potential danger. As an example of an association which would on technical grounds be most appropriate for the Authority, we may cite the problem of power. The Authority will be engaged in the production of power. It will be engaged in licensing power plants of non-dangerous type for private or national operation. It should take advantage of these associations to be informed about the power requirements which play so large a part in the operation of separation plants.

It will be seen that we do not contemplate any systematic or large-scale inspection activities for the Authority except those directed to the control of raw materials. It is our hope--and we believe it a valid hope--that when the Authority is in full operation it will, through the application of ingenuity to the problem, have obtained a sufficiently complete control over raw materials and the fissionable products so that no elaborate and formal inspection procedures will be needed to supplement it. It is clear that final decision on this matter must take into account the events of the transition period from our present condition to that of the full operation of the Authority. It is also clear that the more rapidly the initial steps leading to the Authority's control of raw materials are taken, the greater the chance of the elimination of the more burdensome forms of inspection.

The geological survey, while in a sense inspection, will be focussed on a world-wide search and survey for the discovery of the essential raw materials. In the conduct of research and development, and through the location of the Authority's laboratories in various parts of the world, the Authority should become cognizant of a wide range of research and development activities in various countries. Therefore, the purpose of inspection would be served in that personnel of the Authority should be currently and intelligently informed regarding national and private research and development activities in this field.

In operating mines, refineries, and primary production plants in various countries, the personnel of the Authority will likewise acquire insight regarding the activities and trends in various countries. In its licensing activities the Authority will maintain contact with the research and development laboratories authorized to use reactors. Exchange of personnel, visits, and even formal inspection, may all be involved.

In licensing power reactors which are somewhat less safe than research reactors, the Authority would send its representatives to inspect or visit these plants at frequent intervals. Such personnel would presumably be trained in the development or engineering branches of the Authority and their primary purpose might well be to furnish engineering services and advice to the operators. The. inspection that would actually result would be far more effective than any direct attempt to inspect.

Under the relations described between the Authority and national or private groups using denatured fissionable material, the inspectors would have a right of access deriving from the terms of the license and lease. Furthermore, if the Authority conducted the operations described, it would have within its organization a unique knowledge of the whold [sic ] field of atomic energy and the changes in that field, which are almost certain to be rapid if it is developed in a healthy manner. To the extent inspection was required it could be done by competent engineers or scientists who would be far more knowledgeable than those inspected and who could furnish useful aid and advice at the same time.

In the course of its activities, the Authority might acquire information which would cause it to suspect evasions or violations in places to which it did not have the right of access for geological survey or for inspection of installations using leased material. Some means would have to be provided so that the Authority by making out a prima facie case would be granted access to the suspected plant or laboratory. This might be arranged through the presentation of such a request to some international body such as the International Court. If the Court were satisfied with the adequacy of the reasons presented by the Authority, it might then request the nation in which the suspected activities were located to grant access to representatives of the Authority. This seems to us one of the possible means of approach to the limited problem of detection of evasions that would be present even under the Atomic Development proposal. The procedure seems sufficiently limited in its effect upon national sovereignty to be practical. We recognize that the idea raises a host of questions that would have to be answered before the feasibility and effectiveness of the device could be established but we think it worthy of this further exploration.