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Digital Archive International History Declassified

1956

SOUTH AFRICAN CABINET MEMORANDUM, RESEARCH IN THE FIELD OF NUCLEAR ENERGY AND EXCHANGING INFORMATION WITH FRIENDLY NATIONS

This document was made possible with support from the Leon Levy Foundation, Carnegie Corporation

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    South African Cabinet memorandum discussing the potential for nuclear cooperation and technology assistance from various friendly countries, including the United States, Great Britain, and the Netherlands.
    "South African Cabinet Memorandum, Research in the Field of Nuclear Energy and Exchanging Information with Friendly Nations," 1956, History and Public Policy Program Digital Archive, South African Foreign Affairs Archives, Atomic Research Union of South Africa.137.11.23.Vol. 1.Atomic Energy.3.5.56-1.6.57. Obtained and contributed by Anna-Mart van Wyk, Monash South Africa. http://digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/116048
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Cabinet Memorandum

Research in the area of Nuclear Energy and the Exchange of Information with Friendly Nations: Concluding of Friendship Treaties.

As known to the Ministers, the Union through the Atomic Energy Board, signed a contract with the Combined Development Agency, consisting of the Atomic Energy Commission of the United States of America and the Atomic Energy Authority of Great Britain, to deliver +/- 5000 tons of uranium oxide over the next 10 years which at the current average price will amount to GBP40,000,000 in foreign currency for South Africa. The Treasury will not just earn the revenue on the profit but the State will earn direct income of GBP250,000 per year from the sale ofuranium oxide. Without going into more detail with regards to the advantages of this industry, it is acknowledged that this is truly an important industry.

For the Ministers’ information, the following:

PAYMENTS AND RETURNS FROM URANIUM:

Financial Year

Paid to Mines

Paid to Treasury

TOTAL

1952 / 53

327,897 – 9 – 6

2,889 – 10 – 6

330,787 – 0 – 0

1953 / 54

4,858,473 – 3 – 9

34,571 – 6 – 0

4,893,044 – 9 – 9.

1954 / 55

15,114,538 – 0 – 6

97,?55 – 17 – 3

15,212,093 – 17- 9.

1955 / 56

31,051,685 – 11 – 4

184,784 – 4 – 0

31,236,469 – 15 – 3?

GBP51,352,594 – 5 - 1

GBP319,800 – 17 - 9

GBP51,672-395- 2-10

Thus far South Africa was solely concerned with the production and marketing of uranium oxide and because South Africa is one of the largest producers, the Union received quite a notable status internationally. With production only South Africa will not be able to maintain its position.

Since President Eisenhower’s historic declaration of “Atoms for Peace” and the Geneva Conference the imagination of human kind has been seized by the peacefulcivil uses of atomic energy. Although the Americans, the English and the Russians are in comparison far ahead with regards to research...illegible...every country of importance is busy spending huge sums of money on research, notwithstanding the danger that research work may be duplicated or outdated soon. Even a small nation like Norway is busy with its own Nuclear Energy Research Program. It is clear that South Africa cannot lag behind in this field.

According to a report by one of the members of the Atomic Energy Board who visited the USA recently, the USA has already engaged in concluding friendship treaties for co-operation with 27 countries. The chairperson of the AmericanAtomic Energy Commission expressed his disappointed to our Ambassador in Washington that such an agreement with South Africa is not in place yet. The Americans are eager to assist South Africa but according to their Atomic Energy Act they are not allowed to provide as much as 1 milligram Uranium235 to South Africa unless there is an agreement between the USA and the Union. Furthermore the Americans view such an agreement as the first step to further co-operation in nuclear energy and even possible financial assistance with regards to the building of a nuclear reactor in South Africa. Our representatives were told that the USA is willing to provide half to a maximum of $350,000 for an experimental reactor that might be built in South Africa. There are no conditions attached to this offer. The gift of $350,000 may, if accepted, be used towards any means as decided by the Atomic Energy Board, even for the erection of a building at the reactor acquired by other means.

The Atomic Energy Board has already drafted a concept agreement that will be submitted to the Ministers shortly and it is highly recommended that such an agreement be entered into with the United States of America.

With regards to a reactor, the Atomic Energy Board appointed a Research Advisory Committeewith Dr H.J. van Eck as chairperson, who is currently preparing a research program for the Atomic Energy Board. Until the program is drafted it is unclear if the cordial offer of the USA should be accepted at this stage.

The Government of Great Britain and theAtomic Energy Authorityof England indicated on several occasions that they are willing to provide confidential information to South Africa regarding the peace time uses of nuclear energy as well as the production of heavy water. The English is insisting that South Africa must undertake a decisive research program, after which they will be willing to place at South Africa’s disposal all available information wrt such a program. This offer is also subject to the condition that South Africa concludes a Friendship Treaty for the co-operation to peaceful use of nuclear energy with England. The Atomic Energy Board is of the opinion that an agreement should be reached without delay as our students currently studying in England do not have the same access to information as students from countries with an already existing agreement. It is important that all available information be gathered to ensure that work is not being done on problems that America and England already found solutions to. The Atomic Energy Board already drafted an agreement which will be submitted for approval to the Ministers shortly.

The Government of the Netherlands unofficially enquired if the Union will be interested in co-operating with the Netherlands in connection with the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Although the Netherlands is not a producer of uranium, they already have established a large research program on nuclear energy. The Netherlands has eg done quite a lot of research in the area of generating nuclear energy through the suspension of uranium in heavy water. Here also the Atomic Energy Board recommends that the Government enters into an agreement wrt co-operation.

This Memo is only circulated for the information of the Ministers. Concept agreements will be submitted to the Cabinet at a later stage.

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