Chapter 13: The Raw Materials Program
From the very beginning of the atomic energy project, one of the most important activities was procurement of basic raw materials, many of them never before in great demand. The Office of Scientific Research and Development had begun acquiring a number of these materials through the planning board of its S-1 Section and through Stone and Webster, and in mid-1942, when the project was placed under the direction of the Army, the Manhattan District assumed responsibility for the ongoing materials program. With the long-range objective of ensuring America’s control of the world’s more significant deposits of uranium and thorium,1 the District almost immediately became involved in acquisition efforts at an international level. This, project leaders felt, was critical to national security and would prevent unfriendly nations from securing these supplies.
Geographic Search and Field Exploration
In October 1942, shortly after General Groves became executive officer of the Manhattan Project, Deputy District Engineer Nichols and Union Miniere Director Edgar Sengier successfully completed negotiations for the District’s acquisition of the company’s remaining stocks of mined uranium ore, stored on Staten Island and in the Congo,2 thus assuring the atomic program a sufficient supply to meet its wartime requirements. Yet in the ensuing months, project leaders gradually came to realize that raw materials procurement could not be limited to meeting only the immediate wartime demands. First, by their decision to build and operate several large production plants, they had established a requirement for a continuing supply of uranium, not only for the wartime weapons program but also for postwar armaments and development of atomic energy as a great new source of power. Second, they became increasingly aware of important strategic considerations as, beginning in 1943, the United States negotiated interchange agreements with
Great Britain. Both the American and British leaders concluded that the best future interest of the two countries would be served by a joint effort to seek out and gain control over as much of the world’s uranium and thorium deposits as possible; this policy, they reasoned, would ensure their governments ready access to major new resources of inestimable value and would keep these resources out of the hands of their potential enemies. Furthermore, project leaders perceived that, strictly from the viewpoint of national interest, it would be better for the United States to conserve its own apparently limited domestic resources and use whatever raw materials it could acquire from other countries instead.3
Although occupied with a myriad of other matters relating to plant construction in early 1943, General Groves took time to develop an organization for carrying out the project’s long-range raw materials objectives. He presented his ideas to the Military Policy Committee at its 5 February meeting, emphasizing that he wanted to have “a competent mining expert examine the possibility of developing in the United States a suitable source of supply of the crucial ores.” By late March, the Manhattan commander was discussing the possibility of engaging the Union Carbide and Carbon Corporation, already under contract to operate the gaseous diffusion plant at Clinton, to undertake a broad program of ore exploration for the Manhattan Project.4
Groves’ selection of Union Carbide rather than some other company, or the Manhattan District, or another government agency was due to a number of considerations, with the security aspect of primary importance. Because Union Carbide made regular foreign purchases of many uranium minerals, he felt it was highly unlikely that the chemical firm’s ore exploration activities for the District would attract any undue attention. Also especially attractive was the fact that the company, because of its long experience in mineral surveys and explorations, currently had an organized – although inactive – subsidiary, the Union Mines Development Corporation, to administer the ore program. Following negotiations, Union Carbide agreed to activate Union Mines, and on 24 May, Union Mines President J. R. Van Fleet accepted a letter contract. Under terms of this contract, Union Mines would carry out a worldwide search for new sources of uranium, evaluate its findings, and make recommendations as to the best way for the United States to explore them; the government would pay all costs; and Union Mines would work without a fixed fee or profit.
For reasons of security, and to avoid duplication of administrative overhead operation, Union Mines located its headquarters in the New York City office building already occupied by other elements of Union Carbide. Security also was the main consideration in the administrative
decision to set up a separate Manhattan unit for monitoring Union Mines survey and exploration activities, as well as to maintain liaison with District headquarters and its major procurement office at Madison Square. On 15 June, in rooms adjacent to those of Union Mines, the district engineer established the Murray Hill Area Engineers Office and, as area engineer, assigned Maj. Paul L. Guarin.5
While Major Guarin was organizing a small staff of technical experts and clerks, Union Mines started recruiting trained personnel for its staff. By mid-1944, the company had assembled approximately 130 individuals, assigning half of them to the New York office and the rest to field projects in the United States and abroad. To achieve its program objectives, Union Mines organized staff functions along several lines. The New York-based geologists, translators, and clerks concentrated on a thorough search of available technical literature on world mineral resources, in all languages. Field teams of mining engineers and geologists investigated known or suspected sources of uranium and thorium. A small group in New York studied ways to improve the methods and equipment for ore exploration, and another small unit at Union Mines headquarters oversaw research on beneficiation and metallurgical processes that might be suitable for concentration of uranium ores. Making maximum use of the nearby facilities of Union Carbide, Union Mines was able to administer the entire ore program with a relatively small overhead staff and at a cost of approximately $600,000 a year.6
During the period of its wartime operations, Union Mines supplied Manhattan leaders with a variety of reports. After studying the various instruments and techniques for area surveying and ore testing, Union Mines research staff compiled data on the latest or improved devices for detecting uranium and thorium deposits and for testing ore samples. It also examined some sixty-five thousand volumes and, based on its findings, produced fifty-six reports covering occurrences of uranium and thorium in about fifty different countries, including not only enemy-controlled lands such as Czechoslovakia and Thailand but also areas as remote as Greenland and Madagascar. And from the company’s field exploration program, field teams prepared a total of fifty-seven reports of investigations carried out in thirty-six states and the territory of Alaska and about forty-five reports of investigations conducted in some twenty foreign countries.7
Beginning in early 1944, the Murray Hill area engineer used the Union Mines data to provide the district engineer with comprehensive lists appraising uranium production possibilities in various countries. A typical list, for example, rated occurrences in the Belgian Congo as excellent; those in the United States, Canada, and Sweden as good; those in Czechoslovakia, Portugal, and Union of South Africa as fair; and those in Madagascar, Australia, Brazil, and England as poor. By 1945, the area engineer was also including reports on thorium. Brazil and India were rated excellent, while the United States, Korea, Netherlands East Indies, Malaya, and Siam were judged fair. In this manner, the Union Mines data provided the essential guidelines for reaching the long-range objective of the ore program.8
Ore Control Agency: Combined Development Trust
By the summer of 1943, the American atomic project’s supply requirements for sufficient raw materials had convinced its leaders of the importance of establishing adequate control over the world’s more significant deposits of uranium and thorium. In its 21 August report to the President, the Military Policy Committee advanced this idea, warning that “the major world supply [is] in the Belgian Congo [and] not under our control in any way.9 This situation, the committee felt, did not bode well for the United States, especially in the postwar era: America’s knowledge and technical capability to fabricate atomic weapons would be of no avail without the raw materials to do the job.
How to secure these raw materials became a priority issue for project leaders, who felt one way was to gain control over the Congo supply. During the fall, Colonel Nichols attempted to convince Union Miniere Director Edgar Sengier that the flooded Shinkolobwe mine should be reopened and its entire future output sold to the United States; however, Sengier, who understood the potential of atomic power, did not wish to make any commitments that he could not later justify to the Belgian government as having been based upon military requirements.
The American failure to secure a long-term contract from Sengier for future production of Congo ore came up for discussion at the 14 December meeting of the Military Policy Committee. The consensus of the committee was that, with the Belgian government in exile in London and British commercial interests apparently holding or having direction over nearly a third of Union Miniere stock, Great Britain was likely to gain control of the Congo uranium. So from the American point of view, the committee concluded, the best move would be to secure joint control. Consequently,
Speaking for the Military Policy Committee, General Groves recommended to the President in February 1944 that the Belgians be “strongly encouraged” to reopen the Shinkolobwe mine and that the United States and Great Britain take whatever steps were necessary to ensure “joint control” of uranium in the Congo. The two countries also should collaborate to secure all accessible supplies elsewhere, “not only for the period of the war, but for all time to come.” The Top Policy Group endorsed these recommendations and, on the fifteenth, Secretary Stimson and OSRD Director Vannevar Bush lunched with Roosevelt and secured his approval.12
Following these recommendations, the Combined Policy Committee gave its tentative approval to a draft plan for American-British-Canadian collaboration on 17 February. The committee would establish a Washington-based business corporation, or similar agency, headed by a board of six directors (three to be chosen by the United States, two by Great Britain, and one by Canada), and the United States would pay half the cost of the organization, Great Britain and Canada the rest. As directed by the committee, the new organization would give first consideration to obtaining control of the Congo ore deposits.13
Final negotiations on this wartime agreement took place in London between Sir John Anderson, now Chancellor of the Exchequer, and American Ambassador John G. Winant. This arrangement made for a somewhat ticklish situation, for neither Secretary of State Cordell Hull nor anyone else in the Department of State knew anything about the existence of the Manhattan Project. In the interest of continued secrecy, President Roosevelt took the view that Ambassador Winant was his representative, not Secretary Hull’s, and that negotiations could be conducted through Winant without recourse to the Department of State. He designated Secretary Stimson to oversee the negotiations, and instructions reached Winant over Stimson’s rather than Hull’s signature. For these delicate negotiations then, the War Department assumed a role normally accorded to the State Department. Although highly irregular, the War Department continued to play this role in subsequent quests for overseas uranium and thorium resources.
Winant’s instructions were carried by Maj. Harry S. Traynor, a highly trusted officer on the Manhattan District staff, whom General Groves detailed to brief and assist the ambassador.14 Traynor arrived in London in mid-March, armed with a letter from the President, a copy of the draft agreement, and instructions to do everything in his power to assist Winant in completing the accord as quickly as possible. “Any delay in negotiations,” wrote Roosevelt to his ambassador, “might prejudice a successful conclusion.”15
Despite this admonition for speed, nearly three months passed before the London conferees were able to resolve the intricate problems associated with preparing the so-called Agreement and Declaration of ‘Trust. Some of these problems were legal in nature, and to aid in their solution Winant requested the assistance of Brig. Gen. Edward C. Betts, judge advocate general of General Eisenhower’s European Theater of Operations headquarters, and Secretary Stimson complied. Betts, whom Winant trusted implicitly, also enjoyed the confidence of Sir Thomas Barnes, Sir John Anderson’s legal adviser, and the two men worked well and easily with each other.
One legal question that arose even before Traynor left for England was raised by the President himself: If the proposed organization was established as a corporation, could its existence and transactions be kept a secret under United States law? There was general agreement that Roosevelt’s concern for security was justified, and after considerable legal study, Sir Thomas suggested and General Betts agreed that the best solution was to make the organization a common law trust.
A second legal problem was whether the President had the authority to enter into the type of agreement contemplated. Two briefs were prepared on this question – the first, at the direction of Secretary Stimson, by Brig. Gen. Boykin C. Wright, the Army Service Forces’ International Division director, who as a civilian had headed a New York law firm; and the second, on General Groves’ orders, by three lawyers on the Manhattan staff: IA. Col. John Lansdale, Jr., Maj. William A. Consodine, and Pvt. Joseph Volpe, Jr. Both briefs agreed that the proposed arrangement was within the power of the President to make executive agreements without recourse to Congress, but both also questioned the legality and practicability of establishing a corporation. General Betts seconded these conclusions, which further supported the recommendation that the organization be established as a trust.
There were also other questions. Should Canada be a signatory to the trust agreement? Should thorium be included with uranium as a valuable source of fissionable material? The question concerning Canada arose because it was not a party to the Quebec Agreement. The conferees decided to drop all references to the country from the trust agreement, but Winant and Anderson stipulated in an exchange of letters that one of the six directors of the trust would be a Canadian.16 As for thorium, because Metallurgical Laboratory scientists in the spring of 1944 had concluded that it might eventually prove to be the best fuel for atomic piles, the conferees in London decided to include it with uranium in the Declaration of Trust.
The negotiations were monitored carefully from Washington, where Secretary Stimson, Harvey Bundy, as Stimson’s special assistant for scientific affairs, and General Groves kept in close communication with Winant. Drafts of the proposed trust agreement were sent back and forth between the two capitals, and in the midst of the London talks Traynor traveled to Washington to confer with his superiors. This coordination, however, did not result in a timely resolution of the discussions, which were complicated by the fact that Ambassador Winant, Major Traynor, Sir John Anderson, and W. L. Gorell Barnes, a representative of the British Foreign Office, simultaneously were involved in quite lengthy negotiations with Belgian officials in London regarding an agreement on future control and development of the rich Congo ore – the primary reason for establishing the trust.17
It was early June before the conferees had coordinated and affirmed in final form all aspects of the Declaration of Trust. Prime Minister Churchill signed first, affixing his signature on two copies of the agreement.
Forthwith, a special courier carried the documents to Washington, where, on the thirteenth, President Roosevelt also signed them. This trust agreement established the Combined Development Trust which, under the general direction of the Combined Policy Committee, would supervise the acquisition of raw materials in “certain areas” outside of American and British territory.18 The individuals named as trustees, whom the committee approved at its next meeting in September, were: for the United States, Charles K. Leith, a distinguished mining engineer, George L. Harrison, a businessman and special assistant to Stimson who had been helping out on Manhattan problems, and General Groves; for Great Britain, Sir Charles J. Hambro, head of the British Raw Materials Mission, and Frank G. Lee, a British Treasury representative; and for Canada, George C. Bateman, a deputy minister and member of the Combined Resources Board in that country. At the first meeting of the Trust on the fourteenth, Groves was elected chairman and Sir Charles deputy chairman of the group.19
Ore Acquisition in Foreign Areas
For the leaders of the American atomic energy project, the much enlarged program of exploration, control, and acquisition of radioactive ores in foreign areas represented the logical continuation and expansion of the ongoing ore program in the United States and Canada.20 Because the deposits would be in countries not under American or British control, they left the problem of acquisition to the Combined Policy Committee and the Combined Development Trust. Operating at the international level, these joint American-British groups were technically outside the direct control of the Manhattan District; however, their activities inevitably were influenced greatly and related closely to those of the American project, not only because in the foreseeable future the latter would have the greatest need for fissionable materials but also because two of its influential personalities held key posts in both organizations. General
Groves, as chairman of the Combined Development Trust, tended to dominate its activities. And in the Combined Policy Committee, Maj. Gen. Wilhelm D. Styer headed the important technical subcommittee, whose reports furnished much of the data for the parent committee’s decisions on matters relating to Manhattan’s production and weapons development program.21
The first important achievement for the United States and Great Britain was final agreement with the Belgians in early fall of 1944. As soon as the two countries had reached agreement in June on establishment of the Trust, General Groves and Sir Charles Hambro, acting on behalf of the Trust, began direct negotiations with Edgar Sengier to expedite arrangements with the African Metals Corporation for reopening Union Miniere’s Shinkolobwe mine. The diplomatic negotiations finally culminated in the Belgian, or Tripartite, Agreement of 26 September, effected by an exchange of letters among Foreign Minister Paul H. Spaak of Belgium, Chancellor Anderson, and Ambassador Winant.22
Under terms of the agreement, Belgium granted the United States and the United Kingdom an option on all of its uranium and thorium resources in recognition of the fact that “the protection of civilization” required “effective control of said ores. ...” The option was to continue in effect for the period needed to carry out ore contract arrangements set up under the agreement, as well as for an additional ten-year period. Belgium reserved the right to retain such ore as might be needed for “her own scientific research and ... industrial purposes. …”23
But the two atomic partners did not secure this control over the Congo ore deposits without making some major concessions. President Roosevelt had approved the concessions in August 1944, harking to the advice of Stimson, who monitored the negotiations, that if they were not granted the Belgians might delay indefinitely reopening the Shinkolobwe mine. Of particular importance was the two allies’ agreement to enter into a contract between the Trust and African Metals for purchase of 3.44 million pounds of uranium oxide under terms acceptable to the Belgian government. In addition, they also assented to furnish Union Miniere with the new equipment and materials it would require to reopen and operate the Shinkolobwe mine. Finally, they granted the Belgians the right to participate in any future utilization that might be made of the Congo ores “as
a source of energy for commercial purposes ...”24
Meantime, representatives of the Trust and African Metals, conferring in New York, had worked out the terms of the contract to cover the procurement of the 3.44 million pounds of uranium oxide. On 17 October, they signed the formal contract. It provided that the Trust would purchase only the oxide in the uranium ore, letting African Metals retain the radium and other precious metals contained in the concentrate. Reaching agreement on a fair price was difficult, for its value had never been determined on the open market and depended ultimately upon the success of the atomic bomb project. They finally settled upon a price based primarily on known cost factors – $1.45 a pound for high-grade material, five cents less for low grade, free on shipboard at the port of Africa (Lobito in Angola or Matadi in the Belgian Congo). Perhaps partly to compensate for any losses likely to result from the uncertainty as to a fair price, the Trust agreed to reimburse Union Miniere for costs it incurred up to $550,000 in reopening Shinkolobwe mine, and also to assist it in procuring materials, equipment, and skilled labor. With this assistance, Union Miniere, which already had taken preliminary steps for resumption of uranium mining operations in the Congo, estimated that it could begin delivery of new oxide to the Manhattan Project by late 1945 or early 1946.25
In anticipation of the heavy financial obligations that the Trust would have to meet under terms of the African Metals contract, as well as under other ore acquisition contracts that it expected to negotiate in the future, the American trustees had already taken steps to secure funds for payment of the United States’ share of the cost of Trust operations. This had turned out to be a fairly complex problem, because the Trust’s requirement for extreme secrecy and for continuous access to funds without time limitations to meet contractual obligations tended to run counter to legally established governmental fiscal procedures. General Groves had undertaken responsibility for coming up with a plan that would circumvent these legal barriers without impairing the contractual capabilities or security of Trust operations. Groves presented his plan to the Combined Policy Committee on 19 September 1944, emphasizing that the objectives of the agreement under which the Trust had been set up in the previous June made absolutely necessary an access to adequate funds. The committee unanimously endorsed the plan and Groves set about immediately to put it into effect.26
The essential feature of Groves’ plan was a special fund to be deposited with the Department of the Treasury, from which he or other designated
American members of the Trust could draw money as needed, without further authorization being required. Money from this fund would be placed in the Federal Reserve Bank in New York City to cover the United States’ share of payments on Trust contracts. On 21 September, Under Secretary of War Robert P. Patterson directed allocation to Groves of an initial sum of $12.5 million from funds already appropriated for national defense purposes. By the time Groves received the check, however, his legal staff had found that funds deposited with the Treasury were subject to handling and processing by many employees in both the Treasury and the General Accounting Office, too great a security risk for the Manhattan Project. A possible alternative was to deposit the money directly in the Federal Reserve Bank in New York City or in a private banking institution in that city. But after further consultation with War Department lawyers and with Secretary Stimson and George Harrison, a fellow trustee, Groves concluded that probably not even this step could be taken without first informing Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau.
On 17 October, Groves and Harrison met with Stimson in his office to try to resolve the Trust’s quandary over its funds. There appeared to be no legal way around the requirement that the Trust must secure the consent of Secretary Morgenthau before depositing the $12.5 million with the Treasury. Yet Stimson was convinced Morgenthau would insist on having full knowledge of the atomic bomb project before giving his consent. This, Stimson felt, he could not do without permission from the President, whom he did not wish to bother concerning such a relatively unimportant matter. Stimson finally was persuaded to attempt to get Morgenthau’s sanction of the special fund without telling him the reason for its existence; but, as the Secretary of War had predicted, he refused. Fortunately, however, further negotiations between Manhattan District and Treasury officials revealed that Secretary Morgenthau maintained several accounts in his office which were not subject to the usual auditing and accounting procedures and that Trust funds might be placed in one of them without danger of exposure. Groves visited the Treasury Secretary on 27 October and, still without revealing the purpose, received permission to place Trust money in one of the special accounts. Henceforth, Groves made withdrawals from the account, depositing them in the Bankers Trust Company of New York to cover payments on the African Metals and other contracts. In the period from late 1944 until he resigned from the Trust at the end of 1947, the Manhattan commander deposited a total of $37.5 million in the Trust’s Treasury account.27
In late 1944, the British were interested in devising a more comprehensive plan for a long-range procurement program for raw materials. They expressed a particular need for a study that would provide information on developing radioactive ore sources within British areas outside of Canada. At its 19 September meeting, the Combined Policy Committee agreed unanimously that the Trust should undertake a worldwide survey of current and potential sources of radioactive materials. Committee members also acknowledged the need for more data on requirements, but they emphasized the theoretical nature of scientific and technical information and the difficulty of obtaining accurate estimates. Nevertheless, the committee directed its technical subcommittee to investigate and report on the uranium required for a “unit explosive of specified energy ...” and for the next stage in development of atomic weapons, as well as scientific and technical factors that might have an important effect on future ore requirements for atomic explosives.28
The technical subcommittee completed its report in mid-November; however, after hearing a brief oral summary of its contents in January 1945, the Combined Policy Committee laid it aside without further action. The committee followed a similar course with the Trust’s ore survey, which Groves had sent to Stimson on 24 November. Although based upon more complete data from the Murray Hill Area Engineers Office sources compiled by Union Mines and from the British Directorate of Tube Alloys, the survey did not substantially alter the overall picture that Union Mines had depicted in its earlier reports submitted to the district engineer.29
As chairman of the Trust, General Groves made some specific recommendations based on data from the Trust’s ore survey. The United States and Great Britain should continue investigation into uranium and thorium resources, organizing permanent survey groups in England and Canada similar to the Union Mines teams operating in the United States; every effort should be made to build up stockpiles in territories controlled by the two countries; major ore deposits outside these territories (for example, uranium in the Congo and thorium in Brazil) should be purchased and shipped for storage to areas under control of the two atomic powers; and lesser deposits (for example, in Portugal, Czechoslovakia, and Madagascar)
should be brought under control by purchase or by political agreements. The United States and Great Britain endeavored to carry out most of these recommendations. Where political or diplomatic negotiations were required, action was taken through appropriate government channels. Where commercial agreements would suffice, the Trust initiated negotiations.30
The quest for other sources continued in 1945. Early in the year British officials began negotiations with the British and Portuguese owners of uranium mining properties in Portugal, preparing the way for their purchase by the Trust. At the end of January, Colonel Guarin, Manhattan’s raw materials expert, returned from an extended inspection trip to the Congo with new information on the progress being made by Union Miniere in reopening the mines there, and as a result of his report, the Trust negotiated with African Metals for the purchase of more Congo ores that summer. Even the advancing Allied forces in Belgium, France, and Germany furnished additional small quantities of captured uranium ore stores.31
These seized stocks became a matter of slight disagreement between the United States and Great Britain. The Declaration of Trust provided that all uranium, or thorium, secured from whatever source was to be held jointly, but it was generally understood that the first objective of the atomic program in both countries must be to supply the American project with the raw materials it needed to develop and build sufficient atomic weapons to win the war. However, some British scientists felt that at least a part of the captured ore, which had been shipped from the Continent to England for temporary storage, ought to remain there to ensure that the British Tube Alloys project would have adequate supplies on hand. Groves disagreed. When he learned in June 1945 that ore captured in Germany was being held in Great Britain, he wrote Secretary Stimson and asked that the Combined Policy Committee request its prompt shipment to the United States “to increase our margin of safety of raw material.” British committee members expressed concern that allocation of all of the ore to the United States would leave Great Britain with virtually no reserves at the end of the war. The committee, nevertheless, real-firmed the policy that while the war lasted all raws materials received by the Trust, including that captured, should go to the United States for weapon production. At the same time, to placate British fears, the committee stated that if the Trust should acquire more than needed for the manufacture of weapons, it should hold it in reserve to be shared jointly after the war.32
Incoming mineral survey reports indicated that kolm, a coal-like material intermixed with oil shale deposits mined in Sweden, contained uranium. In early 1944, a British team and a group of Swedish mineral experts concluded that kolm’s potentialities were sufficient to warrant denying other powers access to the mineral. At the request of the Combined Policy Committee, the American minister in Stockholm, Herschel V. Johnson, opened negotiations with the Swedes. The negotiations, conducted with the knowledge of the British minister in Stockholm, ended without a formal agreement. The Swedish government, however, prohibited export of uranium-bearing ores and agreed to inform the United States and Great Britain if in the future it should decide to permit their export.33
While the British gave full support to the program for control and acquisition of uranium, they were much less enthusiastic about a similar program for thorium. On 27 January 1945, British committee member Sir Ronald I. Campbell, who had replaced Col. John J. Llewellin, wrote to Stimson, expressing doubt as to the wisdom of Groves’ suggestion that the Trust, without direct committee approval, should undertake measures that would likely require political agreements and trade options. In Sir Ronald’s view, both the Combined Policy Committee and the two governments ought to have time to examine the implications of such negotiations before the Trust proceeded. Sir John Anderson advanced similar views, emphasizing that widespread occurrence of thorium limited the possibility that the United States and Great Britain could effectively prevent other nations from acquiring and purchasing substantial quantities of the material. He also suggested that, because limited amounts of thorium were needed in the immediate future, the two allies should rely upon the rather ample commercial production available from the Indian state of Travancore.
The United States, however, did not want to rely solely on British controlled thorium supplies and in mid-February proceeded – without informing the British government – to investigate acquisition of supplies outside of British-American control. In the meantime, Sir John had read Colonel Guarin’s report on the obstacles to a rapid increase in uranium ore production from the Congo and also had learned of new information that emphasized the potential of thorium. Because of these developments, he agreed in early March to go along with a more vigorous policy on thorium. But he was overtaken by events, for the United States was already engaged in secret unilateral negotiations with Brazil to gain access to its thorium resources.34
Playing a significant role in laying the groundwork of these negotiations
was General Groves, who was very much aware that most atomic scientists, including those in Germany and the Soviet Union, recognized that thorium might soon have to replace, or supplement, scarce uranium. When he learned Secretary of State Edward R. Stettinius, Jr., would be passing through Brazil in mid-February, en route from the Yalta Conference (3–11 February) to attend an inter-American meeting in Mexico City, he saw an opportunity to approach the Brazilians secretly. Taking advantage of a conference with the President on other matters, Groves requested and received permission to brief Stettinius on the atomic project. He subsequently talked with Stettinius and also arranged to have an officer from the Manhattan staff, Maj. John E. Vance, accompany the Secretary of State to Brazil.35
On 17 February, Stettinius conferred with President Getulio Vargas on the question of thorium and the Brazilian chief executive approved the opening of negotiations. In the ensuing months, specially appointed Brazilian and American delegations – the United States representatives included three Manhattan officers: Col. John Lansdale, Jr., Major Vance, and 1st Lt. Joseph Volpe, Jr. – worked out details of an agreement, signed on 6 July 1945. It provided that the United States would purchase each year for three years at least 3,000 tons of thorium-bearing monazite ore. In addition, the United States would have an option to buy all other thorium-bearing compounds Brazil might produce in the initial three-year period, with the right to renew this option for ten more successive three-year periods. The British had no knowledge of the agreement, but in September the United States agreed to the understanding reached earlier in March by the Combined Policy Committee that each country should have equal privileges in any arrangement for thorium acquisition and control made with Brazi1.36
When the committee approved the start of negotiations with Brazil, it also endorsed taking steps to obtain control of thorium in India and in the Netherlands East Indies. The British began discussions with Travancore authorities in the summer of 1945, but the negotiations proved difficult and not until 1947 was a less than satisfactory agreement reached. Negotiations conducted at the same time with the Dutch concerning the East Indian sources were more successful, and in August 1945 an agreement granted thorium purchase options to the United States and Great Britain.37