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The Smyth Report, August 1945.NUCLEAR ENERGY AND THE
PUBLIC'S RIGHT TO KNOW

Resources > Openness

Given ongoing concerns with terrorism and nuclear proliferation, a word about secrecy, the information presented on this web site, and the public's right to know is in order. The information on this web site is currently available, and has long been available, in any major university library. The basic story of the Manhattan Project was first released to the public in August 1945 in the "Smyth Report" (right), a book-length study of the Manhattan Project. It was personally reviewed by Leslie Groves, J. Robert Oppenheimer, Ernest O. Lawrence, and others, to ensure that it contained no information that would be of assistance to anyone who might try to build a nuclear weapon. The information from the Smyth Report and other contemporary MED press releases has been supplemented in subsequent years by numerous other histories of the Manhattan Project, including a comprehensive official history produced by the Atomic Energy Henry D. Smyth confers with Ernest O. Lawrence about the Smyth Report, Berkeley, fall 1944.Commission (AEC) historians Richard G. Hewlett and Oscar E. Anderson, Jr. As for the most potentially-sensitive category of entries on this web site, "Science," most of the text for these entries was taken directly from an unclassified 1963 AEC publication, The Atomic Energy Deskbook. Created under the personal supervision of AEC Chairman Glenn T. Seaborg, the Deskbook was intended from the start to be a reference work for the public. The intent of all of these publications was to reveal what could be revealed and to keep secret what needed to be kept secret. Accordingly, this web site has been reviewed by the Department of Energy's Office of Classification and confirmed to be unclassified. (For more information on Manhattan Project-related publications, see the list of "Suggested Readings.")  

Vannevar Bush and James Conant, Berkeley, 1940The public has a right—indeed, an obligation—to be adequately informed about nuclear energy. Henry D. Smyth, himself a scientific consultant to the Manhattan Project, perhaps summarized best the importance of the public's right to know in his preface to the Smyth Report: "the ultimate responsibility for our nation's policy rests on its citizens, and they can discharge such responsibilities wisely only if they are informed." As Vannevar Bush and James Conant (right) wrote even earlier, in a letter to the Secretary of War on September 19, 1944, once atomic weapons are first used

it will be essential to release to the public information about these bombs . . . . This information, in our opinion, should be presented in the form of a rather detailed history of the development which gives all the essential scientific facts and assigns credit to the many individual scientists concerned.  

It is in this spirit that this web site is presented, in the hope of furthering public understanding of nuclear energy, and of the men and women—scientists, administrators, and "common people" alike—that made the Manhattan Project possible.  

Sources and notes for this page.

The text for this page is original to the Department of Energy's Office of History and Heritage Resources.  The "Smyth Report" is Henry DeWolf Smyth, Atomic Energy for Military Purposes: The Official Report on the Development of the Atomic Bomb under the Auspices of the United States Government, 1940-1945 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1945), vii; the Smyth Report was commissioned by Leslie Groves and originally issued by the Manhattan Engineer District; Princeton University Press reprinted it in book form as a "public service" with "reproduction in whole or in part authorized and permitted."  The Vannevar Bush and James Conant memorandum to the Secretary of War is in Groves's file of "Top Secret" MED Correspondence, 1942-1946 (available from the National Archives on microfilm M1109, reel #4/5).  The photograph of Henry Smyth and Ernest Lawrence discussing the Smyth Report is reprinted in the History Office publication: Richard G. Hewlett and Oscar E. Anderson, Jr., The New World, 1939-1946: Volume I, A History of the United States Atomic Energy Commission (Washington: U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, 1972), facing page 376.  Click here for information on the photograph of Bush and Conant at Berkeley in 1940.

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