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2. The Swedish Nuclear Strategy


During the 1950's and 1960's, advocates of nuclear power in Sweden promoted a technical strategy involving domestic uranium mining, heavy water reactors (that do not require enriched fuel) and reprocessing. The official reason given for the strategy was energy self-sufficiency. The Swedish nuclear industry boasted that there was more uranium in Sweden (in low-grade shales) than in any other nation in the world. The reactors were to be built by, among others, the then Swedish-controlled ASEA-ATOM (9). Towards the end of the 1960's the attempt at nuclear self-sufficiency was abandoned in favor of light water reactor technology (requiring imported enriched fuel). As late as 1974, not less than 24 reactors were scheduled at Brodalen, Ringhals, Barsebäck, Oskarshamn, Södermanland, and at Forsmark (10). At the beginning of the 1970's, the waste problem was still "non-existent", and eventual reprocessing, perhaps domestic, was a foregone conclusion. The rationale for reprocessing was the high cost of purchasing uranium abroad, and the fear that Swedish uranium supplies would be insufficient. In the long run, the aim was probably also to establish breeder reactors, which are fueled with plutonium.

The Swedish Bomb

After an intensive debate in 1959, the Swedish Parliament deferred any decision about nuclear weapons to the future. However, from 1957 it was government policy not to allow research on construction and testing of nuclear weapons, including research on construction of the necessary factories. Then in 1968, largely due to the efforts of a small group of women politicians, Parliament took a definite decision against procurement of nuclear weapons. This decision was disregarded by the proponents of nuclear weapons, even after 1970 when Sweden signed the Non-proliferation Treaty.

In April 1985, the Swedish nuclear strategy was finally revealed by the newspaper Ny Teknik (New Technology) to be a nuclear weapons program in civilian disguise (11). The most important parts of the program were the uranium mine in Ranstad, the planned nuclear power station in Marviken (12) and the reprocessing plant in the Sannäs area.

For more than two decades, an inner circle of politicians, technicians, and members of the military, kept their preparation for the production of nuclear weapons a closely guarded secret. The research was planned so that a nuclear weapon could be made with as little advance notice as possible, if the government changed their policy. The first goal was production of ten Nagasaki-class bombs per year.

In 1960, the Swedish military, without the knowledge of Parliament, made a secret contract with a company called AB Atomenergi (later renamed Studsvik Energiteknik AB) to develop and operate a plutonium reprocessing plant. The company chose to locate the plant near Sannäs, as far from the Baltic Sea as possible. There, caves could be excavated in the stone cliffs to hide the operation. In 1963 AB Atomenergi made its first purchase of land in the Sannäs area, which was eventually expanded to 230 hectares in 1966. A major portion of the money to buy this land came directly from the Swedish military.

However, concern about the dangers of nuclear technology worried local people. Finally in January 1970 a public meeting was held with AB Atomenergi. Opposition to the reprocessing plant was overwhelming. The municipal council then unanimously threatened to use their veto (see Chapter 9) to stop construction of the reprocessing plant in their area. The local protest helped result in the plans for the reprocessing plant being dropped.

But the weapons program did not end there. Between 1971 and February 1972 the military carried out a series of ten conventional explosions of imported weapons grade plutonium. The Swedish Ministry of Defense has acknowledged possession of "not more than 110 grams" of plutonium, imported in the late 1950's and early 1960's from France and Britain. The explosions were made at Ursvik, just north of Stockholm, in underground steel and rubber shielded chambers. Between five and ten grams of plutonium together with tens of grams of conventional explosives were used in each of the explosions. These were not nuclear explosions, i.e. there was no release of energy from the fissioning of atoms. The major purpose of the experiments was to measure the effects of explosive pressure on plutonium and the relation between volume and pressure. These types of tests are the final stage in preparation for exploding a nuclear bomb. The Swedish military was unable to get the required information from the U.S. and thus felt compelled to perform its own tests.

The official explanation for the explosions was "defense research". But, it is known that at the same time within certain circles of people, it was feared that Sweden would become one of the few European countries without nuclear weapons. In fact at least two pieces of hardware for use in a nuclear bomb were built in Sweden. The first was a neutron pulse generator, which is the final trigger for a nuclear bomb. The second was a nuclear implosion unit, that is a cone of explosives surrounding the plutonium core. When the cone is activated, it compresses the plutonium core to a critical mass (13). Further, the Swedish company Bofors was expected to build parts of the bomb.

The 1985 revelations by "Ny Teknik" resulted in the Parliament initiating an investigation. The final report of the investigation was completed in April 1987 (14). Over 200 pages of the report were stamped "secret" and not released to the public. A question remaining to be answered is what happened to the plutonium contaminated fallout after the explosions.

Research and development of nuclear weapons was carried out with complete disregard for the repeatedly stated government policy forbidding it. Despite this being publicly revealed, the full official investigation has not been made public. No politician, prosecutor, or other official has chosen to reveal the truth. Does not even the highest level of government have to follow parliamentary decisions, including those concerning matters of nuclear technology?

The Discovery Of Waste

Military motives delayed the serious recognition of the waste problem for two decades. By the time efforts towards solving the problems began to be made, nuclear technology (civilian as well as military) had become well established. The industry did not recognize the possibility of the waste problem ending all nuclear reactor development. Possibly because proponents of nuclear power had a case of bad conscience in the face of the terrifying effects of nuclear weapons, they began to point to nuclear power as the saviour of the future, and to describe it as "clean, limitless energy available at almost no cost at all." In the 1960's, which were characterized by optimistic views of technology and the future, such visions were not questioned.

The Swedish nuclear waste storage philosophy was established by the final report (1976) of the Commission on Radioactive Waste, called the AKA Commission ("AKA-utredningen") (15). The AKA Commission proposed that low-, medium- and high-level waste be stored underground in bedrock at the same site. The high-level waste was to be encapsulated in canisters (16). The committee maintained that there would be no seepage of radioactive matter because of the absence of fractures in the rock. The risk of bedrock deformations and earthquakes was considered non-existent. But this is not the case in the modern geodynamic view of the earth's crust (the continental drift theory), which had not yet been fully accepted in Sweden. The low- and medium-level waste storage facility and the high-level waste facility were to be developed simultaneously. SFR (see Chapter 8) has been built for low- and medium-level waste but the high-level waste facility has not yet appeared.

It was the AKA Commission that first proposed the strange Swedish division of responsibilities, according to which the nuclear companies take care of all practical work towards a solution of the waste problem, and the State is restricted to playing a merely supervisory role. Thereby, the Swedish Government has assumed a very passive role compared to other governments with access to nuclear technology.

Following a recommendation of the AKA Commission, an "independent" research council was established called PRAV (the Program Council For Radioactive Waste). For all practical purposes, this agency ended up in the pocket of the nuclear establishment. PRAV shared offices and a switchboard with SKBF (Swedish Nuclear Fuel Supplies Ltd.), a company owned by the nuclear industry. Also, the activities of PRAV were paid for by the nuclear industry, which also carried out the majority of its research. Furthermore, close personal alliances are known to have existed between AKA, PRAV, and SKBF.

The environmental movement strongly criticized the pro-nuclear bias of PRAV, which led to PRAV being disbanded in 1981. The division of responsibilities then became even more refined. All research was taken over by SKBF, which is owned by the four nuclear utility companies and supervised by a Government institution, the NAK (The Committee For Spent Nuclear Fuel). These twin actors have since changed names to SKB (Swedish Nuclear Fuel and Waste Management Company) and SKN (The National Board For Spent Nuclear Fuel). SKB's responsibility includes all handling, transportation, and storage of the spent fuel and other radioactive waste from the nuclear plants, and all the planning and construction of facilities required for the necessary research.

The Swedish Nuclear Power Inspectorate (SKI) was established in 1976. SKI supervises all nuclear installations, and at the time of its founding also had responsibility for handling start-up applications.

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