Since its invention, the atomic bomb has been coveted by countries around the world. Just by having it, countries with nuclear weapons can stick their chests out on the world stage. And without mentioning it or even threatening to use it, other countries may fear its mere existence in the hands of the neighboring country. Its bad reputation and the attempt to prevent its proliferation has not prevented several countries from possessing it. And although there are officially no nuclear weapons in Spanish territory, we could ask ourselves: would it be possible to have nuclear weapons in Spain?
It won’t be because they didn’t try. As we saw in a previous article, during the Franco dictatorship, Spain did everything in its power to make its own atomic bomb. Decades trying so that, finally, the project was shelved under pressure from the United States. And since then, the subject has never been discussed again. Or not strongly enough.
Peace movements, on the one hand, and environmental movements on the other, made Spain one of the countries most opposed to having its own nuclear weapons. And although they are not directly related, there was also pressure not to have nuclear power plants in Spanish territory. Something that today we would pay very expensive on our electricity bill. But put to fantasize about the idea of having nuclear weapons in Spain, what would be the steps to follow? Would it be possible today to start an arms race in order to develop the atomic bomb on Spanish and, therefore, European soil?
We have the necessary ingredients
To make an atomic bomb like the ones possessed by neighboring countries such as France and the United Kingdom or others further away such as India and Pakistan, we need an essential ingredient: enriched uranium. Or plutonium, which is made from uranium. And the good news is that Spain has uranium. It’s more. It can boast of having uranium reserves above the European average. This is so to such an extent that Spain could achieve energy independence thanks to its own uranium by using it in nuclear power plants. And that independence would last more than 10 years.
However, the bad press that has everything related to “nuclear” or “atomic” has prevented Spain from achieving that energy independence. All in all, we can be satisfied to achieve energy free of CO2 emissions every day thanks to the nuclear power plants in Spanish territory. And they account for 20% of the total energy produced on a daily basis, ranking second or third as a CO2-free source of energy and providing significant support to rising sources such as solar, wind or hydraulic.
For this reason, Spain, despite having uranium in its territory, has to import it from Russia (40%), Canada (22%), Niger (19%) or Kazakhstan (11%). And that between 1960 and 2000 plutonium was extracted from the deposits of Saelices el Chico (Salamanca). And between 1966 and 1990, from La Haba (Badajoz). What made Spain the second largest uranium producer in Europe. So manufacturing nuclear weapons in Spain, the problem would not be a lack of raw materials.
As we have seen, the ingredients to manufacture nuclear weapons in Spain are there. But there are greater impediments than the merely technical ones. To begin with, Spain is part of an international framework of agreements and treaties signed and approved under the protection of international organizations such as the European Union or the United Nations.
Hence, in 1987, Spain would join to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, for its acronym in English NPT. Signed in July 1968 in London, Moscow and Washington DC and in force since March 1970, in the words of Wikipedia, “restricts the possession of nuclear weapons and is therefore part of the efforts of the international community to prevent the proliferation of massive destruction weapons”. At present, more than 190 countries have signed this treaty.
And their articles say the following: States with Nuclear Weapons agree not to transfer nuclear technology to other countries or help them to do so. For their part, States without Nuclear Weapons undertake not to develop nuclear weapons and submit to the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency and the United Nations. It cannot be more clear.
Better listen to the United Nations
It is true that some countries have gone it alone, not respecting this treaty to manufacture nuclear weapons. An example is Israel. But play the mistaken card. It does not officially have nuclear weapons. But all countries know that there is something. Its good relations with the United States prevent any investigation in this regard from being launched, as is the case repeatedly with Iran. A country punished, from within, by its Islamic dictatorship, and from without by the constant sanctions and threats due to suspicions of wanting to develop nuclear weapons. Another example is North Korea. But it is a totally isolated country internationally and only receives occasional aid from China.
In summary. The main impediment to having nuclear weapons in Spain is that if they wanted to work on it, the international community would prevent it. First, from the European Union. And immediately afterwards, the United Nations would also object. That without counting the United States in its personal capacity and the neighboring countries. France, despite having an atomic bomb, Italy, Portugal, Morocco and Algeria. The Europeans would threaten European sanctions. And the southern countries would threaten to freeze the agreements regarding natural gas exports, fishing in common waters and/or exports and imports of products between these countries and Spain.
Public act with the dictator Francisco Franco and the President of the United States Dwight Eisenhower. December 1959Credit: US National Archives / Wikipedia
Nuclear weapons in Spain as a loan
If it is not possible to manufacture nuclear weapons in Spain, would it be possible to house the atomic bombs of other countries? It is not something unreasonable. In Europe, there is nuclear weapons from the United States. The estimated quantity is 150 air-droppable B-61 type bombs. They are located at air bases in Germany, Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands. Outside of Europe, Turkey also has some of those nuclear warheads. And Poland requested to join that list at the end of 2022 in the face of the Russian threat in the context of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Spain could do the same. Ask the United States to dispose of nuclear weapons. And there wouldn’t be too much of a problem with that considering that the United States has two military bases in Spanish territory: Rota (Cádiz) and Morón de la Frontera (Seville). But there would be two reasons for this agreement not to take place. The first is that the United States already has a nuclear arsenal in Italy, a neighboring country. So it is not worth sending nuclear weapons to Spain. And the second reason would be that Spanish society would not agree at all. Especially in Andalusia and after the Palomares accident, about which a few years ago we learned more details that worsen the official version of the event.
A lot of effort for so little reward
In summary. The Spanish State has the ingredients to manufacture nuclear weapons in Spain. And he has the knowledge and the technology. It’s more. Unofficially, it could acquire the components that were missing from allied countries such as France or the United States. It would not be the first time that something like this has happened, given the cases of Israel, India, Pakistan or North Korea.
But Spain would face pressure from public society, which if it is already reluctant to use nuclear power plants to produce energy, its response to the idea of harboring nuclear weapons on Spanish territory would be worse. And on an international level, neighboring countries, powers such as China and the United States and organizations such as the European Union and the United Nations, would put pressure so that the manufacture of nuclear weapons in Spain would not take place.
And finally, after so much effort and so much external pressure, if Spain decided to go ahead, the reward would not be worth so much effort. Experts in strategy and international conflicts suggest that Spain’s diplomatic problems in recent years have been low-level. Disputes with Morocco, for example, occur frequently to see if the common waters belong to one or another country. From time to time the topic of Ceuta and Melilla and Western Sahara comes up. But everything remains mere statements that do not lead to the use of force. And the fact that Spain had nuclear weapons would not make it solve these problems that, unfortunately, will continue to last forever.