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 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.
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.
May 22, 1963
Research Memorandum RFE-40 from Thomas L. Hughes to the Acting Secretary, 'A French Nuclear Testing Site in the Pacific? – Plans and Repercussions'
France’s staging of atmospheric and underground tests in Algeria became increasingly untenable when neighboring African countries protested and even temporarily broke diplomatic relations with Paris. Once Algeria became independent in 1962, French authorities made plans to develop a test site in Polynesia.
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.