9 Report by New Weapons and Equipment Development Committee1

Canberra, 7 May 1948

Present
Major-General L.E. Beavis, C.B.E., D.S.O.Department of Defence, Chairman.
E.L. White, Esq.Department of Defence
Captain H.M. Burrell, R.A.N.Department of the Navy.
Eng.-Rear-Admiral A.B. Doyle, C.B.E.Department of the Navy.
Colonel J.G. Wilton, D.S.O., O.B.E., representing Lieut. General S.F. Rowell, C.B., C.B.E.Department of the Army.
Brigadier J.K. Coffey, representing Major-General W.W. Whittle.Department of the Army.
Air Vice-Marshal E.C. Wackett, O.B.E.Department of Air.
N.K.S. Brodribb, Esq., C.B.E.Department of Supply and Development.
Professor L.H. Martin, Chairman, Atomic Developments Sub-Committee, was also in attendance.

Agendum No. 8/1948 Report No. 9/1948-Proposed Construction of an Atomic Pile in Australia

Matters Referred

  1. The Committee gave consideration to Report No. 3/1948 by the Atomic Developments Sub-Committee,2 relating to the question of Australia participating in the Development of Atomic Energy to meets its own and British Commonwealth requirements, including the possibility of constructing a large Atomic Pile in Australia.

    Consideration

  2. It was recalled that, on 23rd March, 1948, Professor M.L. Oliphant addressed a meeting attended by members of the Atomic Developments Sub-Committee and various senior officers of the Departments of Defence, Navy, Army, Air, and Supply and Development. At this meeting, Professor Oliphant suggested that thought might be given to the possibility of constructing a large Atomic Pile in Australia in the near future as part of a Joint United Kingdom/Australian programme of Atomic Development.

[matter omitted]

Australian Development

  1. Of all the Empire countries, Australia seems to offer the best sites for structures of this nature.3 Australia is not well-endowed with natural power resources-Canada is, and the other Dominions are ruled out for various reasons. Open spaces are plentiful in this country. Because of the nature of one of the products (plutonium), and of the secrecy surrounding details of pile construction, it would necessarily have to be a Defence project.
  2. Finally, there are certain developments expected to occur within two or three years, which may make it possible to use atomic energy for the propulsion of mobile vehicles-aircraft, rockets, ships, etc. Consequently, it would be natural to associate the project with the Long Range Weapons activities in South Australia.4
  3. South Australia would also be a very suitable site from the viewpoint of a ready market for the electric power produced.
  4. During the course of his talk, Professor Oliphant referred to the following aspects which would arise should the construction of a large power producing pile in Australia be contemplated:
    1. Iron is available in Australia, and that required for the purpose could probably be obtained.
    2. The uranium and graphite could probably be supplied by the United Kingdom.
    3. The civil engineering could be done by Australia.
    4. The special engineers and technical personnel could be supplied by the United Kingdom.
    5. The time for construction would probably be of the order of three years. Altogether, it might be five years before 50,000-60,000 kilowatts of electric power could be supplied on a 24 hour-a-day, 365 days-a-year, basis. In this time, plutonium sufficient for a substantial number of atomic bombs would be produced.

[matter omitted]

Recommendations

  1. The committee recommended that:
    1. It be accepted as a general principle of policy that it is desirable that Australia take part in the development of atomic energy from the viewpoint of Defence, apart from the advantages to National Development.
    2. The Commonwealth Government invite the British Government to send to Australia, as soon as possible, a high official, preferably Professor Sir John Cockcroft5 of the Ministry of Supply, to discuss the directions in which Australia could participate in the development of atomic energy to meet its own and British Commonwealth requirements, including the possibility of constructing a large atomic pile in Australia capable of producing both plutonium and power.

[NAA: A5954, 1385/3]