Heavy Water

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Heavy Water

Post  comcast on Sat 4 Jan 2014 - 21:30

In several references I have read that the french military intelligence bureau was able to convince Norsk Hydro to loan them some heavy water which was shipped eventually to France.   Does anyone know how the French could do that?  I believe the amount was 185 kg.   Also does anyone know when that was done?

So, if this was true, the Allies were concerned about three main things regarding Norway:

1)  Iron Ore shipments from Sweden via Narvik
2)  The potential of German U-boat bases in places like Trondheim
3)  The production of Heavy Water by Norsk Hydro for use in R and D of Nuclear Energy ie bombs

England was already informed about how an atomic bomb could be made ( on March 21, 1940) and German scientists were actively working on that weapon.

Any comments would be appreciated.

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Re: Heavy Water

Post  Bjørn on Sun 12 Jan 2014 - 16:06

Hello!
When should this have happened? Before the war, I guess?

B

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Re: Heavy Water

Post  AltforNorge on Mon 13 Jan 2014 - 1:01

Just a guess.

Heawy water was an ordinary sales commditie in Norway before the war. The Norwegian authorities had no idea about potential use of the material. I guess that there was no restrictions. Those who paid most, got the goods.

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Re: Heavy Water

Post  kaii on Wed 22 Jan 2014 - 12:21

The French government bought the available stock (ca 188 litres) of heavy water from Hydro in late 1939/early 1940, with the intention to use it for the nuclear research conducted by their Paris programme. Germany had also made a bid for the stock, but the Norwegian government decided to let the French have it, perhaps after having been made aware of potential military uses of it (this is debated in historical circles still..).

By 1939/40, several states, including Germany, France, UK and Italy, had developed the theoretical understanding of nuclear physics, and had decided that deuteriumoxide (heavy water) would be an ideal moderator in a nuclear reactor to enrich enough fissionable material, because of the amounts needed for one reactor alone and the difficulty in purifying it to the right concentration. The heavy water was, in other words not a part of a nuclear bomb as such, but a theoretical component of a nuclear reactor which would create fissionable material enough for a bomb. In 1939/40 the understanding of this was very much at theoretical level, although it was immediately undertstood that a very powerful explosive devise could theoretically be produced using nuclear fission.

I believe the heavy water was transported to the UK before the fall of France, which eventually also allowed the UK nuclear researchers to conclude that heavy water was not an ideal moderator for use in a reactor to create bomb grade materials, and they instead concentrated their research on graphite as the moderator of choice (later experiences, for instance Chernobyl, has shown that graphite is not an ideal choice either... and heavy water continues to be used in some reactors around the world today.

The Germans continued their research, and though it has since been proven that the German nuclear bomb programme essentially stopped being a real threat allready in 1939/40 (i.e. they would not have been able to build a bomb regardless of amounts of heavy water they got their hands on because their reactor design was flawed), the Allies still considered it important to ensure the Germans did not get their hands on the production from Vemork - probably to prevent them from discovering the same that the UK/US had allready discovered about heavy water as a moderator and point them in a different direction.

Recent tests of the heavy water barrels that were sunk on the ferry Hydro showed that the amount of actual heavy water in the necessary concentration (99,75% purity) was very small, and only about 0,5-1% of the shipment was "bomb-grade" heavy water. The Germans would, in other words only have had about 1/10th of the heavy water they would have needed to create a reactor capable of enriching enough fissionable material for a bomb, using heavy water as the moderator.

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