Legislative Branch

Guide to House Records: Chapter 23 Atomic Energy

Chapter 23. Records of the Joint Committees of Congress 1789-1968 (Record Group 128)

Table of Contents

Records of the Joint Committees of Congress 1789-1989 (Record Group 128) from Guide to Federal Records in the National Archives of the United States, 1789-1988

Joint Committee on Atomic Energy (1946-77)

JC.097 The complex technology and high-level security classifications peculiar to atomic power led Congress to make special provisions for dealing with it. As a result, the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy was established by the Atomic Energy Act of 1946 (Public Law 79-585). The committee was created to "make continuing studies of the activities of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) and of problems relating to the development, use, and control of atomic energy." Unlike other joint committees created during the modern era, the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy was given the authority to report legislation. Indeed, the Atomic Energy Act directed that "all bills, resolutions, and other matters in the Senate or the House of Representatives relating primarily to the Commission or to the development, use or control of atomic energy" should be referred to the joint committee.

JC.098 Created to serve as a "watchdog" of the U.S. atomic energy program, the committee monitored the Government's classified and unclassified activities involving peaceful and military applications of atomic energy. The committee held hearings in both public and executive sessions, reported bills, undertook studies, and published reports, committee prints, and hearings transcripts that sometimes included testimony taken in executive session with classified material deleted. Through hearings and other public informational activities, the committee played a significant role in encouraging peacetime uses of atomic energy. The committee dealt with such subjects as the budget authorization bills for the Atomic Energy Commission, international agreements regarding atomic energy stemming from President Dwight D. Eisenhower's "Atoms-For-Peace" speech of December 1953, and various mutual defense agreements.

JC.099 The records of the committee (406 ft.)1 are divided into eleven series. The unclassified general subject file comprises 75 percent of all the records. The series includes documents dating from 1946 to 1977, filed alphabetically by subject. There is correspondence with Members of Congress, the AEC and other executive agencies, utility companies, plant construction firms, research institutions, and private citizens. Also in this series are memorandums, printed reports, studies, brochures and pamphlets, minutes of meetings, transcripts of hearings, copies of committee prints, bills and accompanying papers, speeches, press releases, maps, photographs, and news clippings, as well as committee administrative materials. The entire range of subjects considered by the committee is represented here, including atomic weapons, nuclear weapons tests, atomic power, civil defense, nuclear facilities, radiation, research, nuclear accidents, nuclear propulsion, raw materials, foreign relations, legislation, and the Atomic Energy Agency, International Atomic Energy Agency, and Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

JC.100 The classified general subject file, like its unclassified counterpart, is arranged alphabetically by subject. It contains national security classified materials dating from 1947 to 1977. Among the many subjects considered in the documents are activities and weapons of foreign nations, international negotiations, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the reactor development program, weapons tests, the thermonuclear program, ores and raw materials, and radiation. Types of documents include correspondence, memorandums, reports, photographs, charts, and training manuals. There is a classified index to classified general subject file, arranged alphabetically by subject. The index lists the subject of the document, document number, date, and a description of the document (including sender and recipient, where applicable).

JC.101 Unclassified transcripts of hearings and meetings held in executive session, 1954 to 1961, and classified transcripts of meetings and hearings in executive session, 1947 to 1977, are among the records and filed chronologically. There is also a classified index to classified transcripts of meetings and hearings in executive session that includes the date of the hearing or meeting, its subject, the file number, and a brief description of the document. Investigative records dealing with the nomination of David E. Lilienthal to be chairman of the AEC date from January to March 1947 and were created or received by the committee during its consideration of the nomination. Lilienthal served as chairman of the Tennessee Valley Authority from 1941 to 1946, and the committee's investigation centered on conflict of interest charges raised as a result of his previous position with TVA. Lilienthal was confirmed, nevertheless, and served as AEC chairman until 1950. The records consist of correspondence, including various attachments such as reports and newspaper clippings, as well as printed hearings regarding the nomination and other matters.

JC.102 Investigative records regarding the nomination of Allen Whitfield to be commissioner of the AEC consist of documents dating from 1937-55, arranged by subject. Whitfield was nominated in 1955, and the joint committee investigated allegations of financial irregularities. There are copies of wills and other documents relating to estate settlement, financial records, hearings and interview transcripts, and a committee staff report on the results of the investigation.

JC.103 Files of Senator Brien McMahon of Connecticut, first chairman of the joint committee, date from 1945 to 1950. McMahon served as chairman of the Senate Special Committee on Atomic Energy and introduced the bill that became the Atomic Energy Act. In 1945, he became the chairman of the joint committee, relinquished the post from 1947 to 1948, and then returned to it from 1949 until his death in 1952. Included among the records is correspondence with members of Congress, executive departments, businessmen and private citizens. There are also reports, bills, memorandums, and news clippings and other printed materials. Some of the materials relate to noncommittee responsibilities.

JC.104 Records of the Panel on the Impact of the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy, March 1955 to March 1956, are arranged in part by chapter number of the panel's report and in part by subject. The joint committee appointed the panel on March 26, 1955, to conduct a comprehensive study of the peaceful uses of atomic energy and to recommend to the committee legislative or administrative action to promote such uses.

JC.105 The panel's members were nine private citizens drawn from science, education, industry, labor, and the press; and it was chaired by Robert McKinney, editor and publisher of the Santa Fe New Mexican. The panel surveyed the fields of power, medicine and public health, agriculture, food preservation, propulsion, and industry. It considered the organization of the AEC, control of information, research and development, manpower, education, hazards, protection and insurance, ownership of materials, licensing and regulation, financing, and patents. The results were published in January 1956 as a two-volume joint committee print, entitled Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy. Volume 1: Report of the Panel on the Impact of the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy. Volume 2: Background Material for the Report of the Panel on the Impact of Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy.

JC.106 Among the records is correspondence with the AEC, other executive Departments, and officials of interested industries. There are also reports and surveys submitted to the panel, and partial drafts and galley proofs of the panel's report.

JC.107 General administrative and financial records, 1945-76, are arranged chronologically by year and thereunder by type. They include bank statements, payroll records, petty cash receipts, vouchers, travel account ledgers, staff leave and attendance records, guard registers, and visitor logbooks.

JC.108 A finding aid is available for the records of this committee, including folder title lists for the unclassified general subject file, unclassified transcripts, records relating to the nominations of David E. Lilienthal and Allen Whitfield, the files of Senator McMahon, and the records of the Panel on the Impact of the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy.

JC.109 Many records of the committee remain classified. Some have recently been declassified. Others, no doubt, could be declassified upon review. A researcher interested in a topic that appears in the classified records of the committee may request such a review.

This Web version is updated from time to time to include records processed since 1989.


1 This figure includes some records created after 1968. Because of the arrangement of the general subject files, it is impossible to provide a figure that represents the volume of records of the committee that date from 1968 or earlier.

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Bibliographic note: Web version based on Guide to the Records of the United States Senate at the National Archives, 1789-1989: Bicentennial Edition (Doct. No. 100-42) by Robert W. Coren, Mary Rephlo, David Kepley, and Charles South (Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration, 1989), and Guide to the Records of the United States House of Representatives at the National Archives, 1789-1989: Bicentennial Edition (Doct. No. 100-245) by Charles E. Schamel, Mary Rephlo, Rodney Ross, David Kepley, Robert W. Coren, and James Gregory Bradsher (Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration, 1989).