This is how Sweden can be attacked – with nuclear weapons

This is how Sweden can be attacked with nuclear

Updated 01.41 | Published 2024-04-06 16.30




full screen Russian Jars is an intercontinental robot that can carry multiple warheads. This image shows a test launch from Pesetsk in northwestern Russia and comes from the Russian Ministry of Defense. Photo: Russian Ministry of Defence/AP/TT

Air bases, regiments and harbors can become targets if an attacker chooses to deploy nuclear weapons against Sweden. Then, among other things, firefighters must know how to act.

– Nuclear weapons are not likely, but we definitely have to plan for it in total defence, says Martin Goliath at FOI.

Martin Goliath is a researcher at the Total Defense Research Institute (FOI), where he studies nuclear weapons threats. By looking at which weapon systems are assumed to be capable of being equipped with nuclear weapons, one can also see what consequences they would have.

A few years ago, he wrote a memo about how an attacker could use nuclear weapons against Sweden, intended to be used for total defense planning.

He has produced examples of potential military targets for what are usually called tactical, or sub-strategic, nuclear weapons.


full screen Attacks against Sweden with nuclear weapons are not likely, but in the total defense it must still be planned for that type of attack. Photo: Anders Humlebo/TT

The example mentions targets such as ports, air bases, military installations and mobilization sites.

– These cases were chosen considering that they are goals that could be conceivable. Then, of course, you don’t know exactly how a nuclear weapon state has planned to use this type of weapon, he says.

In the case of the ports, it may be about knocking out warships.

– It could also be that they want to cut supply lines to Sweden in general.


fullscreen Ports are potential nuclear targets. In the picture Stilleryd harbor in Karlshamn. Archive image. Photo: Magnus Lejhall/TT

Another potential target he mentions are important bridges, if the attacker has difficulty knocking out the bridge with conventional weapons. The Öresund Bridge has previously been identified as a possible target.

“Not the end of the earth”

Some who have started planning for a nuclear attack are the Norwegian Agency for Community Safety and Preparedness (MSB). In a brochure, firefighters are informed how to act in the event of a nuclear weapon explosion.

– It has been 30 years since we talked about this. It’s a way to get rid of the grave rust, says Henrik Larsson, head of the unit for management and rescue services under high alert, at MSB.


fullscreen Preparedness exercise this summer in which a CBRN unit from the Total Defense Protection Center participated. Press photo. Photo: Antonia Sehlstedt/The Swedish Armed Forces

The tips for the firefighters are somewhat simple, bordering on banal: take cover in a ditch, don’t look directly at the fireball, wait until the shrapnel has stopped falling before evacuating to areas with lower radiation.

– A nuclear weapon that detonates is not the end of the earth. It is a terrible disaster. But you have to remember that this is a bomb, and like a bomb it has different effects, he says.

The new brochure is to be used, among other things, when civil-duty firefighters are trained starting this autumn, and also in future manager trainings.

– Since it is a task according to the legislation that municipal rescue services must be able to handle this in war, then we need to increase knowledge, he says.

Although nuclear weapons have moved up the agenda, he doesn’t think we will go back to classroom exercises, like when American schoolchildren had to practice “duck and cover” when they saw the light from a nuclear explosion.

– I hope I’m right there. On the other hand, I probably wouldn’t be surprised if they include a part about nuclear weapons in the new brochure “If the crisis or the war comes” when it comes out, he says.

“Not much to do”

NATO membership does not mean that Sweden’s task force against nuclear weapons can relax, according to Colonel Thomas Lamke, head of the Total Defense Protection Center in Umeå.

– We have no indications that there are weapons aimed at us. But there is a rhetoric from Russia and Putin that has not been so evident for a long time, really since the Cold War, he says.


full screen An attacker would probably try to knock out Sweden’s air force, then the flotillas would be the target. In the picture, Skaraborg’s flight flotilla F7 in Såtenäs. Archive image. Photo: Lars Pehrson/Svd/TT

In Umeå, the CBRN company, the defense’s cutting-edge expertise against chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats, is trained.

Chemical and biological warfare agents are the main focus, because the question is what difference a single company can make in the event of an atomic bomb explosion.

– When it comes to nuclear weapons, it is – it sounds strange to say it – but there is not so much to do, says Lamke and continues:

– If it has happened, we can’t reduce the effect that much, he says and emphasizes that all Swedish units have a basic ability to act in a contaminated area.

“Can’t relax”

He does not think that NATO membership means that you can downplay preparedness.

– There are no surplus resources anywhere else in NATO and therefore we need to continue to be on our toes and we absolutely cannot relax, he says.

Although a nuclear attack is unlikely, one must plan for it, according to Martin Goliath.

– If you think that you have opted out of planning for it, then it is almost more effective to use exactly what we have not planned for.


full screen The mushroom cloud from the first atomic bomb explosion, at the Alamagordo test site in American New Mexico, on July 16, 1945. Photo: AP/TT


CBRN is an abbreviation for chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats and risks. CBRN was previously called ABC or NBC, and the abbreviation is used both military and civilian.

Radioactive substances emit radiation that can cause direct damage (such as burns) or indirect health effects (for example, cancer).

Nuclear substances can undergo nuclear fission, when large amounts of energy are released at the same time as radioactive substances are formed.

Source: Swedish Armed Forces, MSB

Read moreFACTS Nuclear explosion

It is hard to imagine anything more devastating than a nuclear explosion. The explosion consists of a fireball and a mushroom-like cloud.

The immediate effects are shock and pressure waves, heat and an electromagnetic pulse (EMP), as well as initial radiation. The nearest kilometers from the explosion, the chance of survival is non-existent.

Buildings and being demolished, it starts to burn and the EMP knocks out electronics. Radioactive gases can be formed and spread in the direction of the wind.

Source: MSB

Read more