Postwar mistrust

After World War II, defeated nation Germany held high hopes for plentiful use of the new means of generating electricity, namely nuclear reactors. There were myriad reasons for this, with political and psychological reasons ranking highly. Not until 1955 was West Germany granted independence of occupation and not until 1960 was national atomic legislation, so the German aspirations unfurled only slowly.

As a striking example of the inevitable barriers preventing what had been part of Nazi Germany getting into nuclear power, consider this meeting minute of an obscure British committee of civil servants. John Cockcroft, overlord of Harwell and one of the two hearts of the nation’s nuclear efforts, was a member of the Official Committee on Atomic Energy, a cross-ministerial group charged with dealing with the international political dimensions of the new energy source. On March 27, 1953, listen to this expressed sentiment:

Care must be taken not to confuse the need for ensuring that Communists should not be admitted to the German atomic energy project, which was the main preoccupation of the United States authorities, with the question of surrounding actual equipment and projects with a cloak of secrecy. The planned German nuclear atomic energy activity itself should be unclassified, and in fact the level of atomic energy activity permitted in Germany would not involve classified work in the foreseeable future. It was important not to give the Germans an opportunity to start secret work under cover of security provisions and their wording should therefore at least be revised so as to ensure that German activities in this field were carried out openly.

Official Committee on Atomic Energy. 1953. AE(O) Meeting 6, Mar. 27, 1953 minutes. CAB 134/747. National Archives, Kew, United Kingdom.
OCOAE minutes