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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Swedish Nuclear Weapons

The same argument advanced for chemical weapons development came back 20 years later, when the Swedish nuclear weapons program began: in order to protect themselves against Atomic weapons, one must know how they work and how they can be manufactured. It seemed that Sweden, as a major power in the Nordic countries, on whose shoulders rested the defense against the Soviet Union, would need to have nuclear weapons.

Shortly after the atomic bombing of Japan, the Swedish National Defense Research Establishment (FOA) began to examine the possibilities of production of nuclear weapons. This was connected to the Swedish non-alignment policy; politicians and military leaders argued that Sweden needed a strong defense equipped with nuclear weapons in order to uphold her neutral policy.

The first step towards Swedish nuclear energy was taken in 1945 when the Atomic Committee (atomkommittén, AC) was founded to work out plans and prioritize between alternatives for developing nuclear energy in Sweden. The initiative to establish AC came from the military which shows that the nuclear weapons plans played an important role in the creation of “the Swedish line”. Co-operation between FOA and Atomenergi [AE] was initiated in 1949 to explore the possibilities of manufacturingnuclear weapons. In theory, the corporation AE would be responsible for the civilian nuclear development while FOA should be in charge of the military aspects of this new technology.

Swedish uranium reserves, al though of low grade quality, had been deemed as one of the richest in the western world by American and British investigations shortly after World War II. By 1948 a method for extracting uranium had been developed, and in 1950 the board of the AE decided that a uranium extraction facility would be built in Kvarntorp, Närke, with an annual production capacity of five tons. The facility was completed in 1953. In 1954, Sweden’s first reactor R 1 went into operation.

By the late 1940s Sweden had started basic research on nuclear weapons, and by 1960 the question had already arisen within Sweden of whether it should develop or otherwise acquire an atomic capability. Without some outside assistance, however, particularly in the form of weapons designs and permission to purchase Western equipment, this process would be costly and lengthy and could result, during an interim period, in a diversion of resources to this purpose which might otherwise be used to sustain Sweden’s present power position, for example, by modernization of its existing forces.

If Sweden decided to acquire nuclear weapons, Denmark and Norway might be encouraged to accept nuclear warheads within the NATO framework. Sweden’s membership in NATO was not necessary to Western defense. It would contribute to the over-all defensive strength of the Western powers for Sweden to modernize its defense posture and to establish in Sweden early warning, air control and advanced weapons systems (without nuclear warheads) which are compatible with and complementary to those planned for installation in the territory of neighboring US allies.

The three Scandinavian nations, particularly Sweden, had the most highly-developed civil defense programs in the Free World. In each of these nations the incorporation of shelters in new building construction and registration for civil defense duties are required by law. Civil defense in Sweden and Norway is characterized by large deep rock shelters for elements of the population and industry, and in Denmark by an extensive fallout shelter program.

While the previous discussion on Swedish nuclear weapons had a hypothetical element, over time it became increasingly concrete, and part of the political establishment became ever more negative to the military nuclear weapons program. Instead, priority was given to civil energy program, and the Social Democrats began to exhibit a clear disagreement on the issue of Swedish military nuclear weapons. The government considered nuclear energy preparations in general for the first time in November 1955, and on 23 November 1955 it addressed specifically the question of Swedish nuclear weapons. Defense minister Torsten Nilsson stressed the importance for the armed forces to have modern weapons. The Prime Minister declined to take a position, while Foreign Minister Östen Undén, Finance Minister Gunnar Sträng and, not least, Ulla Lindstrom, with the entire Social Democratic Women's League, were strongly opposed.

Consent was given in the hand for further research work on ABC weapons and protection against these, and also design work on the Swedish atomic bomb. Knowledge of the construction of nuclear weapons had now been improved. The military position on nuclear weapons acquisition became final in the fall of 1957 when a new policy, Supreme Commander-57 [OB-57] was published. The Swedish armed forcescould be equipped with nuclear weapons within a decade. Leading soldiers declared simply that Swedish defense without its own nuclear weapons was not credible.

The years 1959-1964 highlighted the Government's agreement on the military program. By referring the question of Swedish nuclear weapons to a study group, decisions were delayed until the issue had lost its topicality. FOA had in 1961 produced a concrete design dossier for Swedish nuclear weapons, and which required plutonium acquisition. An earlier proposal to use the R4 nuclear reactor reactor for the extraction of plutonium from Swedish uranium appeared unlikely to materialise. The civil users preferred to use a completely different type of reactor, which meant that fissile materials must be imported from the United States, with all that this meant in the way of inspection and control from the United States. In the end, the new Commander in Chief, Torsten Rapp, cancelled investment in a Swedish military reactor, and Swedish production of weapons-grade uranium was thus no longer possible.

The nuclear weapons proposal was approved by the Supreme Commander, with the title “PM rörandekärnladdningsfrågan i ÖB-65” (Memorandum concerning the nuclear device issue in ÖB-65). The memorandum contained a cost calculation for a nuclear weapons program comprising 100 nuclear explosive devices (including weapon carriers, testing and development costs). The total cost was estimated at 1,950 million SEK. The basic information for a chiefs of staff meeting on 15-16 March 1965 stated that the "freedom of action" approach should apply for the time being, to support a later decision to purchase nuclear weapons. The time between decision and production was estimated at 5.5 years.

The main weapon carrier systems would be the A 32 Lansen and theplanned A 37 Viggen attack aircraft. The Saab Draken was designed to intercept high altitude and high speed bombers. The Draken was active in the Swedish Airforce between 1960 and 1998. It was a true cold war product, unique with its double delta wing concept, given the abilty to carry nuclear weapons, although nuclear weapons were never produced. Submarines could also be equipped with nuclear weapons, in the form of torpedoes. Another possibility mentioned was a ground-based missile system. SAAB was working on such a system.

During the 1960s, when the Viggen project tended to swallow up more resources than intended, the Air Force examined the Swedish nuclear bomb. In the choice between an atomic weapon and the SAAB AJ 37 Viggen and the Swedish atomic bomb - an imaginary weapon - the Air Force chose the Viggen. The Swedish Navy invested heavily in underground protection for warships. The Air Force did the same for several squadron of aircraft. This showed that the atomic bomb threat was taken seriously. The Commander in Chief Torsten Rapp gave to the final death knell for the Swedish nuclear weapon program. In the choice between an atomic bomb and the SAAB AJ 37 Viggen, he chose the latter.

It turned out that the plans outlined in the studies of the nuclear device group were difficult to carry out in practice. There would be both technical and financial difficulties in accommodating the weapons program in the framework of civilian nuclear energy development. The government maintained in the budget proposals for 1966 that it was not possible to meet FOA’s request. In practice, this decision means that the Swedish plans to acquire nuclear weapons hadbeen abandoned.

The 1968 defence bill maintained that it was not in Sweden’s interest to acquire nuclear weapons. Parliament passed the bill and with this the "freedom of action" option disappeared from the security policy agenda. The nuclear weapons plans were abolished in 1968, when Sweden signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. And it completely disappeared on 09 January 1970 when Sweden ratified the NPT.

The government controlled AB Atomenergi (AE), which dominated “the Swedish line” was dissolved in 1968 and its resources were transferred to the new private company ASEA-ATOM owned by the Swedish multi-national corporation ASEA.In the 1970 white book Svensk atomenergipolitik (Swedish atomic energy policy), the Minister of Industry Krister Wickman summarized the nation’s experience of developing nuclear energy. Twenty-three years had passed since the government owned company AB Atomenergi was created, responsible for the Swedish research and development of nuclear power based on heavy water technology where domestic uranium would be used. This huge and capital-intensive project was called “the Swedish line” for its ambition to reach independence in the nuclear energy field. It was abolished and replaced by the light water reactor technology that had started to dominate the nuclear market in Sweden and globally since the beginning of 1960s.

On 27 March 2012 Carl Bildt, Minister for Foreign Affairs, stated at the Seoul Nuclear Security Summit "I would like to announce the recent removal of separated plutonium from Sweden. This plutonium was the product of research programs carried out in previous decades, also related to weapons. Over the course of the last two years, we have worked jointly with the United States to safely and securely stabilize, package and transport the separated plutonium we still had to the United States.

"Our objective is a world without nuclear weapons. Securing vulnerable nuclear material is one step towards that goal. We should also make every effort to see to it that the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty enters into force and that negotiations on a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty can commence. Building on the successful New START Agreement, nuclear arms control efforts need to continue, also including non-strategic, tactical nuclear weapons. And we must implement the action plan agreed at the NPT Review Conference in 2010 and advance in all three pillars of the non-proliferation regime: nuclear disarmament, non-proliferation and peaceful uses of nuclear energy."

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Page last modified: 21-09-2012 16:29:18 ZULU