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The geopolitics of uranium: Swedish energy dependencies from a transnational perspective
KTH, School of Architecture and the Built Environment (ABE), Philosophy and History of Technology, History of Science, Technology and Environment.
2013 (English)Conference paper, Abstract (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

A metaphor that is often used to describe energy supply is that of a nation’s blood circulation. Indeed, a permanent interruption in the supply of energy would be lethal to any society. Sweden – a neutral country in cold war Europe – belongs to those countries that are, and have been, very strongly dependent on imports of energy, and this implies a special vulnerability. Today two imported energy carriers – oil and uranium – each covers some 30 % of the total.


Sweden is of course not alone in its dependence on imported fuels. The world’s energy resources are unevenly distributed, and since the mid 19th century the pursuit of coal, oil, gas and uranium has been an important constituent of international politics and economics. Transnational fuel dependencies have a politics of their own: the strongest nations have used economical, political and if necessary military means to control energy sources in far away territories in order to secure their energy supplies at home. This is often referred to as the geopolitics of energy, and there has been quite some research about it. There has been less research on how small nations have tried to handle their dependencies on far away countries using “soft” means rather than “hard” ones. By studying how Sweden has done this we hope to contribute to an understanding of the geopolitics of energy of small nations.


This paper is a part of a larger research project (together with prof Arne Kaijser and Dr Per Högselius) where we investigate Sweden’s strategies for coping with the dependencies on energy from abroad. My case study in the project will investigate the role of uranium import in Sweden.


In the 1940s and 50s, Sweden planned to develop a domestic nuclear energy system based on Swedish uranium. However, this autarky policy was abandoned in the mid1960s for economic reasons, and the Swedish power industry decided to build light water reactors and import enriched uranium from the United States. In 1966, the Swedish Government signed a 30 year agreement with the United States concerning the purchase of enriched uranium. On the Swedish side, the imports of uranium were orchestrated by the Swedish Nuclear Fuel Supply company, SKBF, owned jointly by the major Swedish power companies. But a high ranking civil servant was made president of the board; a sign of the political influence on the company.


Uranium imports had multiple steps and required contracts not only for uranium ore, but also for the conversion and enrichment. In the 1970s and 80s there was a gradual shift to purchasing uranium ore primarily from non-nuclear weapon states. And when it comes to enrichment, the initial dependency on the US was decreased by enrichment contracts with the joint European companies Eurodif and Urenco and with the Soviet company Techsnabexport. A central question is to what extent security policy considerations affected these changes.


In 1984, SKBF changed name to SKB and changed its focus from ensuring nuclear fuel to handling nuclear waste, and uranium imports became the responsibility of the reactor owning power companies. I will discuss this tension between private and state initiative in Swedish nuclear fuel policy and why this balance has changed over time.


I will focus at which actors and which motives that have been central in these decisions and whether it is possible to identify a distinct but evolving ‘Swedish model’ in actors’attempts to deal with vulnerabilities stemming from energy import dependence, and if this model has applied to the energy system as a whole, i.e. the same model has applied to all types of fuels. My analysis will be based on a LTS-perspective. 

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Keyword [en]
uranium, geopolitics, sweden
National Category
History of Technology
Research subject
SRA - Energy
URN: urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-136220OAI: diva2:675609
24th International Congress of History of Science, Technology and Medicine ICHSTM; Manchester, U.K., 21-28 July 2013
Energi och geopolitik. Sveriges internationella beroenden i ett historiskt perspektiv
Swedish Research Council, 2011-2048

QC 20140205

Available from: 2013-12-04 Created: 2013-12-04 Last updated: 2014-02-05Bibliographically approved

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