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Digital Archive International History Declassified

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French Nuclear History

 Documents on the history of French nuclear development, focusing on secret technical assistance provided by the United States in the 1970s and 1980s. See also Nuclear Proliferation, and the related collections in the Nuclear Proliferation International History Project. (Image, Kissinger, Schlesinger, and Galle, 1975, US Office of the Historian, Office of Secretary of Defense)

  • June 15, 1947

    New York Herald Tribune, European edition, 'Joliot-Curie Rips America for Atomic Energy Report'

    French High Commissioner for Atomic Energy, Joliot-Curie, criticizes Henry DeWolf Smyth of Princeton University for omitting from his report the “vital contributions of French science to the discoveries leading to the making of atomic bombs.”

  • February 11, 1949

    Confidential Letter from Homi J. Bhabha to Frédéric Joliot-Curie

    Homi Bhabha, Chairman of the Indian Atomic Energy Commission, informs Joliot-Curie, French High Commissioner for Atomic Energy, that the Indian government has decided to set up a factory for processing monazite and has selected a French firm to develop the factory.

  • June 21, 1949

    Secret Letter from Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar to Frédéric Joliot-Curie

    Indian scientist S.S. Bhatnagar informs Joliot-Curie, the French High Commissioner for Atomic Energy, about plans for the training of Indian chemists in France in preparation for development of a plant in India for processing monazite salts.

  • January 16, 1950

    Minutes of a Special Meeting of the Indian Atomic Energy Commission

    The Indian Atomic Energy Commission meets with the French High Commissioner for Atomic Energy Joliot-Curie to discuss nuclear cooperation between India and France.

  • January 17, 1950

    Minutes of a Special Meeting of the Indian Atomic Energy Commission

    Joliot-Curie, French High Commissioner for Atomic Energy, offers to share technical information with India on the purification of uranium, graphite reprocessing and designs of a low power reactor in exchange for India’s export to France of thorium, beryllium and mineral oil for the manufacture of graphite.

  • July 02, 1950

    Jules Guéron, Record of Discussions with Homi J. Bhabha in London

    Notes from discussions with Homi Bhabha, Chairman of the Indian Atomic Energy Commission, to negotiate the contract for nuclear cooperation between India and France.

  • August 24, 1951

    Letter from the French Foreign Ministry to the UK Embassy in Paris on the Franco-Indian Reactor Agreement

    The French Ministry of Foreign Affairs reports that an agreement has been signed for cooperation between India and France for nuclear research.

  • October 30, 1951

    Letter from UK Embassy in Paris to London on Franco-Indian agreement

    British Ambassador Oliver Harvey reports a conversation with the Director of the French Atomic Energy Commission Jules Guéron on the details of Franco-Indian nuclear cooperation.

  • January 25, 1952

    Letter from John D. Cockcroft to Homi J. Bhabha

    John D. Cockcroft, head of the British Atomic Energy Research Establishment, writes to Homi J. Bhabha, Chairman of the Indian Atomic Energy Commission, informing him that the British will not be assisting India with its beryllium experiements since India has already made agreements with the French Atomic Energy project.

  • February 01, 1955

    French Foreign Ministry, Note on Indian Foreign Policy and Franco-Indian Relations

    Note prepared by the French Foreign Ministry prior to Prime Minister Nehru’s visit to Paris in February 1955. It observed that France could find in India a cooperative partner in Asia despite their outstanding disagreements.

  • March 23, 1957

    Memorandum of Conversation between John Foster Dulles and Selwyn Lloyd, 'Atomic Energy Items: (1) French Request (2) Test Limitation'

    US-UK discussion of French nuclear weapons potential and efforts that could be undertaken to hinder or advance the their program. The French request for technical assistance from these two governments was also covered.

  • August 24, 1960

    Memorandum of Conversation, 'Nuclear Sharing'

    Secretary of Defense Gates, Acting-Secretary of State Dillon and the Atomic Energy Commissions' McCone discuss nuclear sharing with France. The French had offered full cooperation and participation in NATO in return for US Polaris submarine-launched missiles (without warhead).

  • May 08, 1961

    Department of State Cable 5245 to Embassy United Kingdom, Message from President Kennedy to Prime Minister Macmillan

    President Kennedy writes British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan to discuss the implications for NATO and West German security if the US or UK assisted the French nuclear program.

  • March 01, 1962

    Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Foy Kohler, 'Secretary McNamara’s Views on Nuclear Sharing'

    Secretary of Defense McNamara and his Deputy Gilpatric discuss whether assisting the French with missile technology would advance their nuclear weapons program. They speculate that it will help indirectly, missile aid would reduce the cost of the French missile research program and those saving could be directed to warhead production.

  • March 09, 1962

    Memorandum of Telephone Message from Foy D. Kohler to Paul H. Nitze and Roswell L. Gilpatric

    Instructions for Roswell Gilpatric and Paul Nitze from Secretary of State Rusk for negotiations with the French. Among the topics which the US representatives should not discuss are missile sharing and a common Western nuclear force.

  • May 28, 1962

    Memorandum by Edward Biegel, Bureau of Western European Affairs, 'WE Answers to the Ball Questionnaire'

    Edward Biegel of the Bureau of Western European Affairs answers Undersecretary Ball's questions on French nuclear ambitions and Western European collective security. He makes the arguments against nuclear sharing, and also mentions the fact that a Baltimore Sun article likely alerted the Soviets to the fact that the US deployed tactical nuclear weapons on the German front.

  • August 08, 1963

    Memorandum from Under Secretary of State George W. Ball to President Kennedy, 'A Further Nuclear Offer to General De Gaulle'

    Undersecretary Ball outlines for President Kennedy the reasons why assisting the French nuclear program is not in America's interests. It suggests that De Gaulle would only accept assistance if there were no political conditions attached, and to do so would jeopardize US interests in Europe and NATO.

  • April 20, 1964

    National Security Action Memorandum, NSAM 294, McGeorge Bundy to Secretary of State, 'US Nuclear and Strategic Delivery System Assistance to France'

    Bundy explains that, according to policy, the U.S. is opposed to the development of nuclear forces by other states except those approved by NATO. Thus, the U.S. is not to aid French nuclear development, and this document calls for specific technical guidelines to be developed for the agencies in the government to prevent France from receiving any such aid.

  • December 31, 1968

    National Intelligence Estimate, NIE 22-68, 'French Nuclear Weapons and Delivery Capabilities'

    The French nuclear program had been of great concern to US presidents during the 1960s because Paris had defied US pressure and was also suspected of supporting proliferation by aiding the Israeli nuclear program. This recently declassified estimate, prepared at the close of the Johnson administration, gives a picture of a program that was slowing down because of internal financial and economic problems, in part by the impact of the May 1968 student and worker uprising.

  • April 15, 1969

    Memorandum from Henry A. Kissinger to President Nixon, 'Guidance to State and Defense Department on Our Attitude Toward Military Cooperation with the French'

    Kissinger informs Nixon of a discussion he had with British Defense Minister Denis Healey about French/U.S. military cooperation. Kissinger has told Healey that the French have not approached the U.S., and that any decision to aid France would have to be heavily weighed beforehand. Kissinger and Healey have agreed to inform one another should he be approached for such assistance by France in the future.