United States Atomic Energy Commission

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The United States Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) was an agency of the United States government established after World War II by Congress to foster and control the peace time development of atomic science and technology. President Harry S. Truman signed the McMahon/Atomic Energy Act on August 1, 1946, transferring the control of atomic energy from military to civilian hands, effective from January 1, 1947. The agency was abolished by the Energy Reorganization Act of 1974, which assigned its functions to two new agencies: the Energy Research and Development Administration and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.[1]



The formation of the AEC reflected America's postwar optimism, with Congress declaring that atomic energy should be employed not only in the form of nuclear weapons for the nation's defense, but also to promote world peace, improve the public welfare and strengthen free competition in private enterprise. At the same time, the McMahon Act which created the AEC also gave it unprecedented powers of regulation over the entire field of nuclear science and technology. It furthermore explicitly prevented technology transfer between the United States and other countries, and required FBI investigations for all scientists or industrial contractors who wished to have access to any AEC controlled nuclear information. The signing was the culmination of long months of intensive debate among politicians, military planners and atomic scientists over the fate of this new energy source and the means by which it would be regulated. President Truman appointed David Lilienthal as the first Chairman of the AEC.

Congress gave the new civilian Commission extraordinary power and considerable independence to carry out its mission. To provide the Commission exceptional freedom in hiring scientists and professionals, Commission employees were exempt from the Civil Service system. Because of the need for great security, all production facilities and nuclear reactors would be government-owned, while all technical information and research results would be under Commission control. The National Laboratory system was established from the facilities created under the Manhattan Project. Argonne National Laboratory was one of the first laboratories authorized under this legislation as a contractor-operated facility dedicated to fulfilling the new Commission's mission.

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