Department of State Atomic Energy Files

The Ambassador in Sweden (Matthews) to the Under Secretary of State (Lovett)

top secret

Dear Bob: Your top secret letter of July 21 concerning Sweden’s potential role as a source of uranium reached me on July 10.…

We were somewhat surprised at the importance now attributed to Sweden as a potential source of uranium since I had received the contrary impression during my talk with the members of the AEC last October. At that time I understood that the AEC was interested in Sweden primarily as a possible source of industrial equipment for possible export to the Soviet Union and/or its satellites for the development of atomic energy therein for military purposes.

As you will note from the enclosed memorandum, Sweden is at present engaged in a modest program of development of atomic [Page 729] energy for her own economic needs. I understand the cost, both in money and in manpower, of any sizeable military program would be far beyond Swedish possibilities, even should Sweden desire to embark on such a program. (And I believe the Swedes are well aware of the temptation to the USSR involved in any such important development program.)

As to Swedish cooperation, I think we can at present count on it in two respects:

Sweden will not export to Russia or her satellites any equipment which we can show is important to Soviet development of the atomic bomb. (Both in the case of the ceramic kilns for Czechoslovakia and in the matter of Swedish guarantee against re-export of molecular diffusion pumps we have two examples of prompt and complete Swedish cooperation on this.)
Sweden will live up to the oral commitment made in 1945 and furnish us with such information as we may require concerning her own development program.

I now come to the nub of the question, namely, the possibility that our own uranium supply problem may compel us to ask Sweden for uranium. I see no likelihood that as of today Sweden would comply with such a request. As the enclosed memorandum states succinctly, “The sine qua non for the procurement by the United States of Swedish uranium is the definite abandonment by Sweden of her neutrality policy.” Though, as my telegrams have shown, Swedish thinking on neutrality has evolved somewhat and may evolve further after the September elections, Sweden is still emphatically neutral minded.

I have hammered home to the Department in my many telegrams (almost, I fear, to the point of “diminishing returns”) my conviction that Sweden will only abandon neutrality if she is convinced that the risk of material harm to Sweden of sticking to neutrality will be greater than its abandonment. If this question of Sweden’s atomic energy role is really as important as your letter implies, I hope you will reread my letter to you of March 23 and its enclosed copy of my letter of March 16 to Jack Hickerson.2 Also please see my telegram no. 828 of July 123 as the latest of my lengthening series on the subject of withholding military equipment from Sweden. The Swedes still think (a) the United States is in no position to give prompt military aid anyway, (b) the United States is just as apt to come to Sweden’s defense whether Sweden retains its neutrality policy until actually invaded or not, and (c) Sweden can obtain just as much equipment from the United States and Britain to strengthen its defense now [Page 730] whether she remains neutral or whether she associates herself with Western Powers. That is why it is so important to my mind from the point of view of this little corner that the NSC reach an early and favorable decision on the withholding of any important military equipment from Sweden and endeavor to persuade the British to do likewise. Sweden must then be told, sadly not nastily, that we must save all available equipment for our friends and potential allies. If Sweden does abandon neutrality and does associate herself with the West, the chances of our obtaining Swedish uranium would be greatly improved. As indicated in the memorandum,-however, I believe we would still have to pay for the development of uranium production on any important scale and furnish the necessary technical knowledge and equipment.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

In plain English, the recommendation contained in the last paragraph of the memorandum means that if our need for uranium is so urgent, we must be prepared to take very drastic action to modify Swedish policy. I hope, from the point of view of our general policy vis-à-vis Sweden, that is not the case, and that we do not at present need Swedish uranium.

I shall welcome the assignment here of a qualified “Scientific Attaché” if we are going to ask the Swedish Government for technical information on atomic energy. I will not take the matter up with the Swedish Government, however, until I receive the telegram referred to in your letter.…

There was one sentence in your letter which I fail to understand and with which I do not feel that I can concur. You say, “It seems to me that the Swedes may now claim that their estimate of the effect of Swedish neutrality on world security is at least entitled to as much credence as ours, or gut another way, that it is a matter of opinion whether our interests, are best served by their staying on the fence.” If you really believe there is validity in that premise, I think I have been wasting my time in trying so persistently to point out the fallacies of Swedish neutrality.

I hope that you are not being completely worn down by the load you are carrying, and this carries with it my very best wishes.

Very sincerely,

Doc Matthews
[Page 731]

Memorandum Prepared in the United States Embassy in Sweden

top secret

Subject: Swedish Uranium

Memorandum for the Ambassador

From the information available to this office the following is pertinent to Mr. Lovett’s letter of 2 July:

1. Uranium deposits in sizeable quantity do exist in Sweden:

[Here follows a brief description of Swedish uranium resources.]

3. With no coal, only small quantities of petroleum developed from oil shale and definitely limited hydroelectric resources, Sweden must seek to develop any indigenous source of power and heat. The promising potentialities of atomic energy are, therefore, of the utmost interest to her from a purely economic standpoint.

4. With limited research facilities and appropriations, Sweden cannot be expected to take an active lead in basic research. She will, on the other hand, husbanding her research and development potential, concentrate on the development, for Sweden’s economic needs, of indigenous materials based on research made available to her by the Great Powers.

5. Sweden has a pilot uranium extraction plant in operation at Kvarntorp which has continually run into difficulties. Sweden plans the erection of a small production plant to extract uranium from the kolm deposits at a cost of Kr. 500,000. Because of the difficulty inherent in separating the kolm slivers from shale, kolm separation will amount to 3,000 tons per annum from which the uranium yield will be approximately nine tons. This quantity, the Swedes believe, will be sufficient to construct one pile. The program planning thereafter envisages the erection of an uranium shale extraction plant at a cost of Kr. 10,000,000 with an uranium output of 20 to 35 tons per annum.

Commenting on specific points in Mr. Lovett’s letter:

1. Sweden can be expected to abide by the commitments made in her note of 11 September 1945.

2. Our interests would be best served by not approaching Sweden for as much uranium as we can get at this time. Sweden’s neutrality thinking has not changed and it is, therefore, reasonable to believe that consistent with that thinking, Sweden will no more now than heretofore favorably consider the export of uranium to any power, much less one of the Great Powers whose avowed utilization of the material is military. The sine qua non for the procurement by the United States of Swedish uranium is the definite abandonment by Sweden of her neutrality policy.

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3. Sweden will likely cooperate in preventing the knowledgeable export of any device or equipment suitable for atomic energy applications. It is consistent with her neutrality policy.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

5. The export of items from the United States in the atomic energy field should be kept apart from the general restriction on military exports. Since we may consider the Swedish atomic energy program to be purely economic in nature, the benefits of which would accrue, in part, to all of Western Europe, we should support the program as a corollary to the Economic Cooperation Act.


It would therefore seem that the primary considerations in this problem are:

Must we have the uranium which is known to exist in Sweden.
If we must have it, what action or actions on the part of the United States will provide the only condition under which it can be procured, that is, Sweden’s orientation to the West by the abandonment of her neutrality policy.
How can we best procure the quantity needed by the time in which it is required.


That Mr. Lovett be advised not to apply for the purchase of uranium in Sweden at this time unless the needs of the United States are so urgent that definite action leading to a change in foreign policy by the Swedish government can be accomplished by the United States.

  1. Ante, p. 716.
  2. Neither printed.
  3. Not printed.