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Letter to Senator McMahon Concerning a Bill for Domestic Development and Control of Atomic Energy.

February 02, 1946

[ Released February 2, 1946. Dated February 1, 1946 ]

My dear Senator McMahon:

You have requested my views on S. 1717, a bill for the domestic development and control of atomic energy. I wish to give you my thoughts at this time because I consider the subject of paramount importance and urgency, both from the standpoint of our welfare at home and that of achieving a durable peace throughout the world.

I appreciate the thorough and impartial manner in which atomic energy hearings have been held before your Committee. I believe that the hearings, in keeping with democratic tradition, have aided the people in obtaining a clearer insight into the problems which such legislation must meet.

You will recall that I sent a special message to the Congress on October 3, 1945, calling for legislation to fix a policy for the domestic control of atomic energy. Since then I have given considerable time to the further study of this most difficult subject. J have had the advantage of additional technical information and expressions of public opinion developed at the hearings. With this background I feel prepared to recommend in greater detail than before what I believe to be the essential elements of sound atomic energy legislation:

1. A commission established by the Congress for the control of atomic energy should be composed exclusively of civilians. This should not be interpreted to disqualify former military personnel from membership, and is in accord with established American principles embodied in our statutes since 1870. I would prefer a three-man commission in lieu of a larger group which administrative experience has shown unwieldy. It is essential that the members of the commission be full-time Government employees.

2. The Government must be the exclusive owner and producer of fissionable materials. (Fissionable materials are, of course, to be distinguished from source materials from which fissionable materials may be derived. By fissionable materials, I mean such as U235, or Plutonium, or any substance enriched in these beyond its natural state.) It follows that there should be no private patents in this field of exclusive government activity.

The disadvantages of Government monopoly are small compared to the danger of permitting anyone other than the Government to own or produce these crucial substances, the use of which affects the safety of the entire Nation. The benefits of atomic energy are the heritage of the people; they should be distributed as widely as possible.

3. Consistent with these principles it is essential that devices utilizing atomic energy be made fully available for private development through compulsory, non-exclusive licensing of private patents, and regulation of royalty fees to insure their reasonableness. These provisions will assure widespread distribution of the benefits of atomic energy while preserving the royalty incentive to maintain the interest of private enterprise.

4. In my message of October 3rd, I wrote: "Our science and industry owe their strength to the spirit of free inquiry and the spirit of free enterprise that characterize our country... (This) is our best guaranty of maintaining the preeminence in science and industry upon which our national well-being depends."

Legislation in this field must assure genuine freedom to conduct independent research and must guarantee that controls over the dissemination of information will not stifle scientific progress.

Atomic energy legislation should also insure coordination between the research activities of the Commission and those of the proposed National Science Foundation, now under consideration by the Congress.

5. Each of the foregoing provisions for domestic control of atomic energy will contribute materially to the achievement of a safe, effective international arrangement making possible the ultimate use of atomic energy for exclusively peaceful and humanitarian ends. The Commission should be in a position to carry out at once any international agreements relating to inspection, control of the production of fissionable materials, dissemination of information, and similar areas of international action.

I feel that it is a matter of urgency that sound domestic legislation on atomic energy be enacted with utmost speed. Domestic and international issues of the first importance wait upon this action.

To your Committee, pioneers in legislation of vast promise for our people and all people, there beckons a place of honor in history.



[Honorable Brien McMahon, United States Senate, Washington, D.C.]

Note: On August 1, 1946, the president approved the Atomic Energy Act of 1946 (Public Law 585, 79th Cong., 60 Stat. 755) providing for the development and control of atomic energy.

Harry S Truman, Letter to Senator McMahon Concerning a Bill for Domestic Development and Control of Atomic Energy. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/232401

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