On 2 July 1958, President Eisenhower signed amendments to the
1954 US Atomic Energy Act which opened the way to a bilateral
agreement between Britain and America on nuclear weapon design
The turning point had come in October 1956, ironically with a
disagreement, when America had refused to support the stance of
Britain, France and Israel over the Suez crisis.
To compensate Britain for the international political
embarrassment suffered, by 1957 Eisenhower was increasingly
determined to improve nuclear relations with Britain.
In August of that year, the Soviet Union resumed nuclear weapons
testing, a direct and negative response to an American suggestion
that the USA would suspend testing if the Soviets ceased production
of fissionable material for weapons.
And the launch of Sputnik later in 1957 lead to a radical
reappraisal of the Soviets' technical capabilities. At the same
time, Anglo-American discussions on nuclear propulsion units for
submarines and for stationing ballistic missiles on British soil
were also in danger of stalling.
Now, with the Act amended, the inertia could be overcome. Hot on
the heels of the amendment came the signing, on 3 July 1958, of the
Agreement for Co-operation on the Uses of Atomic Energy for Mutual
The Agreement permitted an exchange of classified information
which effectively would allow British delivery systems to be fitted
with warheads based on American designs, as well as to improve the
technical capability of both parties to the agreement in the field
of nuclear weapons.
In July 1959, an important amendment to the 1958 Agreement came
into force which extended co-operation by - inter alia - permitting
Anglo-American purchases and exchanges of fissile and thermonuclear
The technical exchanges which followed have been a cornerstone
of life for the British nuclear weapon community ever since.
Based around a series of Joint Working Groups, each
concentrating on a specific area of physics, engineering and
materials science, Aldermaston's specialists have for more than
forty years been able to exchange and develop ideas with their
counterparts from the American Laboratories to the benefit of the
nuclear weapons programme on both sides of the Atlantic.