Plutonium Proliferation and Non-Proliferation
Contrary to popular perception, the
Swedish nuclear program started - as in the nuclear weapons powers -
with a military nuclear weapons program, just after the second world
war. Although an apparently civil Swedish atomic energy company (AB
Atomenergi) was created in 1947, it was the creation of the weapons
research and development effort in 1949 that drove the program forward.
Because of the national security implications of the military program,
Sweden decided to make its nuclear materials supplies independent of
foreign suppliers, and so a uranium mine was opened at Ranstad, near
the town of Skövde in central southern Sweden.
The military origins are now publicly known in Sweden;
indeed SKI provides details on its web site. But it was a shock to many
when a technical paper was published in the journal "Ny Teknik" (New
Techology) on 25 April 1985 setting out in complex detail the inside
history of the military program. Its author, Christer Larsson, caused
nearly as great an upset in the Swedish establishment as did the Chernobyl
accident that happened exactly a year later. The then Swedish prime
minister, Olaf Palme, ordered a Government investigation into the revelations,
which was a little curious as in 1958 he had been the young secretary
of the secret committee that decided that the research into developing
the Swedish atom bomb, started in earnest in 1953, should continue.
A research reactor, R1, was started on 13 July 1954
in Stockholm; this was followed by another reactor, R2 with a capacity
of 50 MW being developed at the research center at Studsvik, south of
was continued by AB Atomenergi - later re-named Studsvik Energiteknik
AB - between 1960 to 1972, even though the Swedish Parliament (Riksdag)
took a definitive political decision in 1968 not to pursue the weapons
work, once the international nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT)
had been negotiated at the United Nations. Military experiments involving
10 underground ‘implosion tests' using around 10 grams of plutonium
were conducted up to 1972 in the Ursvik region on the Baltic coast.
The centerpiece of the program however
was the 65 MW Āgesta heavy water reactor, built some 45 meters underground
in a Stockholm suburb. Named R3, it was completed in 1958, and producing
plutonium and generating district heat as a by product, but which also
provided a public rationale for the plant. The R3 was designed to generate
about 20-23 kg of plutonium a year. According to SKI it has generated
only 24.4 kg plutonium of which 2.8 kg is stored in Studsvik and the
rest is under Euratom safeguards in Mol in Belgium. In 1957 opinion
polls demonstrate popular support for Swedish nuclear weapons, but this
began to wane by 1959. Even so R3 was used for a decade to support the
weapons program, even the United States privately made clear it was
concerned about Sweden's attempts to do it alone in weapons development.
There is approximately 49 kg of plutonium-contaminated waste from R3
in the CLAB store.
Hannés Alfén, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist who had helped design
R3, was amongst its first and most prominent critics on safety grounds.
He was influential in pressing for its closure which came in 1974, although
it was not decommissioned, but de facto kept in mothballs.
It is thought probable that radioactive wastes
from the military research reactors, including R1 -called Baptise- was
dumped in the Baltic from 1959, although this was halted when international
agreements prohibiting the sea disposal of solid radioactive wastes
were completed in 1983.
Today the Swedish military nuclear program is moribund,
as Sweden has taken a global lead in opposing nuclear weapons. Thus
amongst SKI's primary tasks listed in its mission statement are: "Ensuring
that the Swedish government, in co-operation with the competent international
safeguards agencies, is provided with adequate information on and control
over nuclear substances and nuclear technology which are held, used
and traded and which come under Swedish jurisdiction. This must be done
to ensure that such substances or technology will not be used in any
way contrary to Swedish legislation and Sweden's international obligations
in the area of non-proliferation."
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