Proliferation clues

It’s February 1954 and English atomic mandarin John Cockcroft is trying to talk his UK Atomic Energy Executive colleagues into more European collaboration: “Plans are now being prepared by several European countries for the construction of new reactors. We are receiving a number of requests and ought now to develop a consistent policy.”

Cockcroft’s instinctive and deep desire for nuclear cooperation, in polar opposition to the tight domestic focus of his UK peer and competitor, Christopher Hinton, is of great interest to me.

Of less interest, because it deals with atomic bombs, is France’s gradual move towards their eventual nuclear weapons graduation in 1961. But what I did find fascinating in Cockcroft’s UKAEA paper on European collaboration is this morsel:

The French are following up the construction of the two heavy water research reactors by constructing two 40 megawatt graphite air cooled piles by the Rhone about 20 miles from Avignon. Their objective is to produce plutonium, ostensibly for breeder reactors but more probably for military purposes

Reams have been written about when precisely France shifted from its avowed no-nuclear-weapons stance to racing towards bomb mastery. Seven years before the French test, Cockcroft (and, one can be certain, anybody else knowledgeable in England or America) saw clearly.



Cockcroft, John. 1954. Collaboration with European atomic energy: AEX(54)28. AB 41/641, National Archives, Kew, United Kingdom