AEC-ERDA-DOE & NNSA
On 1 January 1947, President Truman transferred control of atomic weapons from the military to the newly created Atomic Energy Commission (AEC). This shift gave the members of the AEC complete control of the plants, laboratories, equipment, and personnel assembled during World War II to produce the atomic bomb. In creating the AEC, Congress declared 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. Nevertheless, on 11 March 1948 President Truman informed the key leaders in the AEC that the primary objective of the AEC was “to develop and produce atomic weapons," so he made it clear the AEC was in charge of developing the U.S. nuclear arsenal, taking over these responsibilities from the wartime Manhattan Project. In its first decade, the AEC oversaw the operation of Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory, devoted primarily to weapons development, and in 1952, the creation of a new, second weapons laboratory in California, the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. The AEC also carried out the "crash program" to develop a thermonuclear weapon (hydrogen bomb, or H-bomb). In conjunction with development, the AEC began a program of regular nuclear weapons testing, both in the Pacific Proving Grounds and at the Nevada Test Site. While the AEC also supported much basic research, the vast majority of its early budget was devoted to nuclear weapons development and production. But the AEC, not the military, retained custody of the critical components of nuclear weapons, and not until the Korean War did that begin to change. At the end of 1951, there were 429 weapons in AEC custody and nine held by the DOD. By 1959, the nuclear weapons stockpile had grown to 12,305 weapons, of which 3,968 were in AEC custody and the remaining 8,337 were in military hands. At the end of that decade, nuclear weapons had become smaller, lighter, and simpler. Consequently, they also became easier to store, assemble, test, and maintain, thus making their transfer from the scientists in the AEC to the troops in the Armed Forces more manageable. Increasingly, weapons assembly teams were no longer required, and the weapons were maintained in a ready-for-immediate-use configuration--which was especially necessary for warheads on ballistic missiles. For a number of reasons, the AEC was abolished by the Energy Reorganization Act of 1974, which assigned its functions to two new agencies: the Energy Research and Development Administration (ERDA) and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the latter of which was focused solely on nuclear reactors being built to generate electricity. In 1977, President Carter signed into law The Department of Energy Organization Act, which created the Department of Energy (DOE). Although the weapons role of the DOE has declined since the military was granted full custody of nuclear weapons, it is still a key player. The best example of this is the National Nuclear Security Administration, a semiautonomous agency within the DOE that was established by Congress in 2000, charged with responsibility for maintaining and enhancing the safety, security, and effectiveness of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile without nuclear explosive testing. There are only a few patches in this album, but the importance of the organizations they represent cannot be overstated.