United States Congress Joint Committee on Atomic Energy

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The Joint Committee on Atomic Energy (JCAE) was a United States congressional committee that was tasked with exclusive jurisdiction over "all bills, resolutions, and other matters" related to civilian and military aspects of nuclear power from 1946 through 1977. It was established by the United States Atomic Energy Act of 1946, and was the overseer of the United States Atomic Energy Commission. For its broad powers, it is described as one of the most powerful congressional committees in U.S. history. It was the only permanent joint committee in modern times to have legislative authority.

The panel coupled these legislative powers with exclusive access to the information upon which its highly secretive deliberations were based. The joint committee was also entitled by statute to be kept "fully and currently informed" of all commission activities and vigorously exercised that statutory right, demanding information and attention from the executive branch in a fashion that arguably has no equivalent today.

One major power wielded by the JCAE was the "Legislative Veto." This unique power enabled the JCAE to influence policy decisions while matters were pending. This enabled the JCAE to act as a co-decision maker with the executive branch rather than only providing congressional oversight of actions that had already occurred. The legislative veto power was later found to be unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court in 1983.[1]

During the 1970s, the committee's role in shaping nuclear policy began to diminish after the Nuclear Regulatory Commission was created to replace the Atomic Energy Commission. Congress soon transferred the bulk of the joint committee's jurisdiction over civilian nuclear power to other standing congressional committees in the House and Senate. The joint committee was finally abolished on August 5, 1977.

Prominent members[edit]

  • Brien McMahon (D-CT), 1946-1952: Senator who was legislative author of the Atomic Energy Act of 1946, chairman of the JCAE whenever Democrats controlled Congress (1946, and 1949-1952), until his death. Chairman of the JCAE during detection of the first Soviet atomic bomb, the debate over the hydrogen bomb, and the discovery of Klaus Fuchs as a spy.
  • Bourke Hickenlooper (R-IA), 1946-1968: Ranking Senator throughout much of its early history; chairman of the JCAE from 1947-1948. In 1949, he led a campaign accusing AEC chairman David E. Lilienthal of "incredible mismanagement" of the US nuclear complex.[1]

Committee members, 1946-1977[edit]

The joint committee had equal representation between both the House and Senate, with 5 majority and 4 minority members from each house. The committee was chaired by a senator from the majority party until the 83rd Congress, when the chairmanship began to alternate between a majority representative and majority senator.

79th Congress, 1946[edit]

80th Congress, 1947-1948[edit]

81st Congress, 1949-1950[edit]

82nd Congress, 1951-1952[edit]

83rd Congress, 1953-1954[edit]

See also[edit]


 This article incorporates public domain material from the United States Government document "9/11 Commission Recommendations: Joint Committee on Atomic Energy — A Model for Congressional Oversight?, Congressional Research Service, August 20, 2004".

External links[edit]