Lilienthal, David E.


AEC Chairman Lilienthal appreciates encouragement in the development of the US atomic energy program


Autograph ID: 6140
Condition: Good, two folds (bottom one passes thru signature), mount remnants on verso at top
Description: “(1899-1981) Jewish-American lawyer and public administrator, led the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC). As chair of the AEC, he was a pioneer in civilian control of nuclear power resources. At Harvard Law he acquired an important mentor in Felix Frankfurter. In 1931, Wisconsin governor Philip La Follette named him to the state’s Public Service Commission. He was appointed to the 3-person board overseeing the TVA thru the lobbying of Frankfurter. The TVA was established so that the Federal government could develop and distribute cheap hydroelectric power into rural areas not served by private utilities. The TVA also set up extensive education programs, and a library service that distributed books in many rural hamlets. In Jan. 1946, Under Secretary of State Dean Acheson asked Lilienthal to chair a 5-member panel of consultants to a committee including Acheson, to advise President Truman and Secretary of State Byrnes as to the US position at the United Nations on nuclear weapons; at the time, the US had a monopoly on these weapons. The result was a 60-page “Report on the International Control of Atomic Energy” (the Acheson-Lilienthal Report). Released in March 1946, it controversially proposed the US offer to turn over its monopoly on nuclear weapons to an international agency, in return for a system of strict inspections and control of fissile materials. Instead, the US established the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) to provide civilian control of this resource. Lilienthal was appointed AEC chair on Oct. 28, 1946 and served to Feb. 15, 1950, a pioneer of civilian control of the US atomic energy program. He hoped to administer a program to “harness the atom” for peaceful purposes. The AEC was responsible for managing atomic energy development for the military and for civilian use. As chairman during the early years of the Cold War, Lilienthal played an important role in managing relations between the scientific community and the government. In his 1963 book, “Change, Hope and the Bomb”, Lilienthal criticized nuclear developments and the nuclear industry’s failure to address nuclear waste. He argued that it would be “particularly irresponsible to… [construct] full scale nuclear power plants without a safe method of nuclear waste disposal having been demonstrated” but didn’t advocate blanket rejection of nuclear power. After his resignation, he worked for the investment bank Lazard Freres. In 1955, he formed an engineering and consulting firm dealing with major public power and public works projects. A journal he kept from 1917 to his death was published by Harper & Row in 7 volumes between 1964-83. His other books include “TVA: Democracy on the March” (1944), “This I Do Believe” (1949), “Big Business: A New Era” (1953).

TLS on 8 x 7 blue-printed “United States/Atomic Energy Commission/ Washington” letterhead, February 3 1949, to an admirer. Chairman Lilienthal appreciates his letter, adding: “Such words of encouragement mean a great deal to those of us who are trying to do our very best in the development of the atomic energy program.” 1949 was a most important year for Lilienthal. First, RDS-1, the 1st Soviet A-Bomb test, occurred on Aug. 29, 1949. The design was very similar to the first US “Fat Man” plutonium bomb, thanks to Soviet espionage efforts. Secondly, on Oct. 1, 1949, Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong proclaimed the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, representing another serious threat to national security.”

Type: Letter

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