back to article Lost Nazi nuke-project uranium found in Dutch scrapyard

EU nuke boffins say that mysterious bits of uranium found last year in a Dutch scrapyard originated in the Nazi nuclear-weapons programme of the 1940s. Forensic nuke scientists at the European Commission's Joint Research Centre (JRC) traced two pieces of metal - described as a cube and a plate - back to their exact origins and …


This topic is closed for new posts.
  1. Mos Eisley Spaceport

    Ve almost had vays...

    ....of making you glow!

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Wasn't ever core (ahem) to the German uranium project which was run mainly by Kurt Diebner. Early on the Germans had decided to concentrate on the power generation potential of fission rather than the bomb, so the Norsk Hydro heavy water was absolutely key to their objectives in calculating the fissionability of uranium.

    Fortunately for us the whole project never got a very high profile in the Reich (Speer reported that Hitler only showed a passing interest in the subject) and for a long time ended up being funded by the Reich Postal Ministry of all places. By the time the Germans got round to experimenting with uranium enrichment they were being bombed back to the stone age and there was a crippling shortage of key components.

    The German uranium project was eventually wrapped up by the Allies as Operation Alsos (alsos - 'grove' in Greek. The Manhattan Project was run by General Leslie Grove). They recovered a near-criticality experiment and several tonnes of uranium, but nothing close to what the Americans, British and Canadians had achieved.

    Oh and trivia buffs. The Joachimsthaler mines which provided the Germans with their uranium were the only source of the metal in Europe. They had also provided Marie Curie with the pitchblende in which she discovered radium and polonium. Uranium extraction had been a side effect of mining silver. Which was used in the local currency, called the thaler. Whose name lives on as 'the dollar'.

    Richard Rhodes' 'The Making of the Atomic Bomb' is absolutely recommended reading for anyone interested in how we came to be where we are today.

    1. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge


      The Deadly Element by Leonard Bickel is another very good book on the history of uranium and nuclear weapons research. It paints an interesting story of bungling by British and American bureaucracy before the Manhattan Project started (though this is not the central theme of the book).

      Interestingly there was a British bomb production effort in the early stages of the war, they had worked out the fundamentals of what was required for a bomb but knew that, among other complications, the vast facilities required for production would be vulnerable to air raids and began trying, with great frustration, to convince the Americans to do it instead. Meanwhile the flow of relevant research information west across the Atlantic wasn't being reciprocated, as it transpired because the Americans apparently weren't even reading it, instead sealing it as most secret and locking it away.

      It's a miracle any co-operation gets done between different cultures in wartime...

    2. MajorTom

      Neal Stephenson...

      Great post, Mike.

      This article, and your post, remind me of not one but two books by Neal Stephenson (novelist): Cryptonomicon (includes a bit about secret Nazi research) and the Baroque Cycle (various characters visit the Joachimsthaler mine, and yes, he mentions this place as the origin of "Dollar")

      Beer, because it's finally Friday evening.

    3. Allan George Dyer

      Are you

      Certain about Heisenberg?

      OK, I'd get my coat, but I don't know where it is.

      1. unitron

        Re: Certainty

        "OK, I'd get my coat, but I don't know where it is."

        But at least you know how fast it's moving and in which direction!

        That's the boffin icon, right?

        1. No, I will not fix your computer

          Schrodinger has it

          .....but he also doen't

          1. Anonymous Coward


            Don't tell me, yours is the one with the dead cat in the pocket?

            1. Smallbrainfield



  3. Desk Jockey

    Not proliferated?

    So no linkage with the slightly enriched material that allegedly the Nazis put on a sub and tried to send over to Japan during their final days? A pity, I rather liked that story as there is a strong hint that the Yanks persuaded the Brits to hand it over to them (the sub was intercepted and captured in the Atlantic) and it may have even formed part of the one of the bombs dropped on Japan. Using material from one enemy to persuade the other to surrender, ironic that! Ah well, only another 34 years to go until the 100 year rule comes to an end...

    A new spectrometer to help them detect those naughty proliferators?? I think you mean that it will help identify where the material came from AFTER it has been captured! You can't exactly lug one of these things around like a geiger counter!

    1. Retired Geek

      The sub was U-234

      Here's a link to a book on the topic.

      The boat carried a dismantled Messerschmitt jet, plans for the V-2 rocket, as well as the Uranium and some other toys. Since it was captured in May of 1945, and provided evidence that the Japanese were also interested in the capabilities of Uranium, I have no sympathy with those who criticize Truman for his decision to bomb Hiroshima.

      We now know that the Japanese did not have the resources to use the Uranium, (at least the Home Islands didn't, only the Chinese know what the Japanese were doing in Manchuria) but Truman could not know how close they might have been. It's certain that if they had got a bomb working, they would have used it on the US.

      1. Poor Coco

        Do you sympathize with...

        ...those who object to the destruction of Nagasaki? Given that the Americans had proven their atomic capability days before, and they just wanted to show the Soviets their new toy? Or do you figure the nuking of a second city is no biggie?


        1. JEDIDIAH

          Selective Sympathy...

          I would sympathize with any civilians that got in the way of two armies

          in war time. If you are going to whine about this, you should at least be

          fair and include ALL of the cities that we flattened.

          Although this sort of whining ultimately shows a shocking ignorance of

          the events leading up to these two bombings and also shows a bit of

          disrespect for the Japanese.

          They are not people to be trifled with in wartime.

          1. Anonymous Coward

            or the US

            who when the going gets tough will nuke you rather than fight it it out.

            Two bombs on two cities why? The answer two different designs Hiroshima - Tall boy uraninium with plutonium spike, Nagasaki - Fat Man Plutonium with shaped charge. Sure they brought the Japanese conflict to an end more quickly but what a great excuse to test two differing designs.

            1. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge
              Thumb Down

              *Bzzzt* (was Re: or the US)

              The bomb dropped on Hiroshima was codenamed "Little Boy". Tallboy was a 12,000 lb - but otherwise conventional - "earthquake bomb" used against hardened targets during WW2.

              Little Boy was a "gun type" design which didn't contain a single gram of Plutonium, because a Plutonium gun type design was discovered to be unworkable. Fat Man was an "implosion type" design.

              The Little Boy design was untested because pre-deployment testing was considered unnecessary. The Fat Man design had already been proven at White Sands, New Mexico 24 days previously because they wanted it to work first time in theatre.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Truman was right.

          Whilst I agree with the basic emotion of response Truman was proven right. Even after the first bomb records foudn after the war showed that the Japanese government (including Hirohito) were preparing to fight on. They'd reserved thousands of planes (3,000 I believe is the number) solely to use as Kamikazes to attack the Americans when they tried to invade the home-islands. They'd also armed thousands and thousands of civilians, including school children, with bamboo spears in order to 'resist' the invasion. Indeed it was a group of schoolgirls based in a bunker at Hiroshima castle, where they were working as radio operators for the Army area HQ, that were the first to report the attack.

          The second bomb changed that and caused Hirohito to act.

          Overall the two bombs saved a lot more lives, American and Japanese, than they destroyed. It was clearly the lesser of two evils: which is saying a lot about an atom bomb.

        3. Ivor Kintol D'uso

          @poor Coco

          The "dumbass" was surely Hirohito for not surrendering after the Hiroshima bomb, despite the clear warnings given.

          Lots of POWs & Chinese are still sorry the Allies only had two bombs available...

      2. Poor Coco


        Good think it wasn't U-235, or it'd have blown up!

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        What fantasy land do you live in?

        Even at the height of their power the Japanese were barely capable of reaching the US mainland with randomly released weather balloons carrying a couple of pounds of high explosive. What makes you think that, at a time when their air force was all but destroyed they would have been capable of delivering an atom bomb even if they had been able to invent and then build one?

        I've visited both Hiroshima and Nagasaki and whilst I still agree that Truman made the right decision I don't think your 'they had it coming to them' attitude does you any credit though. Presumably you think the thousands of children who died slow deaths - often lingering for years - were somehow at fault?

        If the real reason for dropping the bomb had been to 'punish' the villains in Japan then the target would have been Tokyo, not Hiroshima or Nagasaki.

      4. Field Marshal Von Krakenfart


        "I have no sympathy with those who criticize Truman for his decision to bomb Hiroshima."

        I take it that you also have no sympathy with people who criticize the bombing of Dresden and the effect it had on the people there either.

        The atomic bombs killed 140,000 people in Hiroshima and destroyed 90% of the city, killed 80,000 in Nagasaki and destroyed 45% of the city. The relative low level of damage in Nagasaki was due to the fact that the city is built in a "Y" shaped valley and that the bomb missed its aiming point and the potion of the city in one of the legs of the Y was protected form the nuclear blast. By comparison an air raid on Tokyo on the March 9/10 1945 destroyed 25% of Tokyo and killed 100,000. So it would seem that conventional bombing was just as destructive.

        Both Hiroshima and Nagasaki were not bombed by conventional bombs so that the full affects of the nuclear weapons could be assessed.

        This gives validity to the theory that the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki may have been as much abount nuclear diplomacy and the projection of 'merkin power and that the primary purpose of the bombing was to intimidate the Soviet Union.

    2. Anonymous Coward

      Use of the Bomb

      There is a very strong argument that the key reason the atomic bombs were dropped on Japan was to force the Japanese to surrender before the Soviets could enter the war on our side. If the Soviets did enter the war there was a significant risk of Japan being partitioned in the same way Germany was, and the US wanted sole control over Japan.

      Have a read of Liddel-Hart's History of the Second World War for more details, but the arguments are absolutely credible, if rather difficult to prove.

  4. Matt Bryant Silver badge

    Heisenberg deserves some slack.

    There's not enough recognition of the fact that Heisenberg and some of his colleagues deliberately steered the Axis project away from a bomb towards nucleur power. Post-war he had to take a lot of ribbing from people that claimed he was just too stupid to design a bomb and had thought he needed to drop a complete nucleur engine to generate radiation to poisonous levels. In fact, his research was always aimed at producing a power solution, and even when it became clear his team would not be able to produce a working system before the defeat of the Nazis, he played on Nazi egos to ensure his team were kept together and not pushed into other projects such as producing a dirty bomb. If he had been an all-out Nazi supporter, it is obvious that his team could have produced at least a viable dirty bomb that could have been used against the Channel ports to slow or stop the flow of Allied troops and supplies into Northern Europe in 1945, or against the Russian armies as they swept across Poland. Either would have left large chunks of Europe uninhabitable for decades.

    1. YARR

      Dirty bomb?

      Was the concept of a dirty bomb in existence back then?

      I thought the effect of sustained low-level radiation on the human body / flora and fauna hadn't been studied at that time, which is why they willingly exposed human guinea pigs to radiation in experiments for years afterward.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Black Helicopters

        ..I could be wrong

        ...but wasn't that becauser there was an official agreement not to use Nazi research? I'm sure that there would be some research that has been used.. but that'll be a rather large can of worms..

        Again, I could be completely wrong, and only have this view point from speaking with elderly relatives who have mentioned so.

        1. This post has been deleted by its author

          1. jake Silver badge

            You are confused.

            "the Americans refused to employ von Braun or to use any of his work in the Apollo programmer?"

            You mean the von Braun who was director of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center? The guy who was Chief Architect of the Saturn V? That von Braun? You are seriously confused.

    2. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Real World as a Charlie Stross novel

      Dirty bomb in 1945?

      With what material exactly? Remember that you have to PRODUCE your radioactive Cobalt first and know how to do that. And then - how to deliver it?

      Hitler never used chemical weapons in anger for possibly psychological reasons, so would he have gone for throwing Jewish Science Wizardry at his enemies? Doubtful.

      >>Russian armies as they swept across Poland. Either would have left large chunks of Europe uninhabitable for decades.

      Actually, it's the sweep of Russian armies across Poland that left large chunks of Europe uninhabited for decades.

      1. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

        Chemical Warfare

        Despite the Germans having invented nerve gas, it was never used during WW2. One theory holds that this is because the designs were pre-war, and hence patented and in the public domain, the Nazis assumed the allies knew about it and feared retaliation in kind if they ever did use it.

  5. Inachu


    Since the Germans were on track to discover the bomb then it should be germany goign all over the world preventing nukes and not the USA.

  6. Craigyb

    Scary but interesting read

    Great read cheers, also thanks Mike some interesting points there too : )

    The really scary part though is that far more powerful WMD's are now in many suspect war-mongering countries, cough cough the USA cough cough......

  7. Martin Usher

    Its a matter of scale

    The Manhattan project had what was at the time the largest industrial facilities in the world. If they were in Europe rather than tucked away in the US they'd be a sitting duck for air raids

  8. jake Silver badge

    I didn't know that ...

    "At one point Reichsfuhrer Himmler suggested that Heisenberg should be treated as a "White Jew", with presumably fatal consequences."

    What a waste that would have been ...

    Q. What do you call a clump of NeoNazis?

    A. A thicket.

    Someone else will have to explain that to the rest of my American brothers ... I can't be arsed at the moment, dinner is on the grill :-)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      You're initial comment...

      ...demonstrates the usual misunderstanding of Hitler and the Nazis. People often make comments like 'if only Hitler hadn't invaded Russia', 'killing the Jews was a wasteful thing to do', 'Kicking all those brilliant scientists out of Germany hurt their economy'.

      All true statements.

      But for Hitler and the Nazis the whole point was to wipe out the Jews and to invade Russia. Everything else was subordinated to that. The war, the economy, scientific research, everything else even, ultimately, the good of the German people, was secondary: the means to that end.

      1. jake Silver badge

        @Edward Kenworthy

        "You're initial comment... "

        Eh? I think your taking something I typed out of context ... fortunately, that matches well with you're apparent lack of a grasp of history. And English. C-, must do better.

  9. Phil 54


    I saw a documentary recently about the recovery of some of the barrels of heavy water from the ferry that was sunk. If I recall correctly, the conclusion they drew was that it would have been almost useless for research due to the very low percentage of heavy vs. regular water contained in the barrels.

  10. Alex McKenna

    Schoolboy Slang

    A good article of course, although it doesn't look very scientific to use the slang term "big that up", where there are so many fine alternatives.

  11. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

    I think

    one of the reasons the german bomb project never really took off was that the german scientists calculated wrongly when it came to determining how much U-235 was needed for a super-critical reaction, and thought it would take far too long to extract that from the uranium ore.

    Whereas the yanks, aided by the british and german ex-pats while being watched by soviet spies calculated correctly.

    1. Kevin Dwyer
      Thumb Up

      Paul Dirac

      Paul Dirac native of Bristol, Nobel Prize Winner, Laucasian Professor at Cambridge, worked it out on the back of a fag packet.

      I recommend "The Strangest Man" by Graham Farmelo, an excellent and informative book ( I'm thick, and even I could follow some of the quantum stuff as the book is so well written, it also has about a hundred pages of references, unusual in a Popular Science book

      1. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

        Paul Dirac

        I like the man even more after reading that.

  12. Steen Hive

    Allied nations wtf?

    "Nowadays the Allied nations are once again deeply concerned about hostile countries developing nuclear weapons. According to the Euro nuke-forensics team at the JRC-ITU:"

    I think you'll find empirically that most of the openly hostile countries ( i.e. engaged in hostilities ) are already in possession of vast amounts of nuclear weapons. A bit of a ham-fisted attempt to equate those not "allied" with Nazi Germany, really.

  13. JohnG


    According to a local historian, a research facility in Darmstadt had a working nuclear reactor in 1943. The technical university here has a reactor today and remains a centre of such research in Germany. The Germans had the same problem that Britain feared - bombing disrupted facilities and infrastructure needed for large scale projects.

    From what I understand, Hitler considered the area of atomic research as "Jewish science" due to the proportion of Jewish experts in this field - and his attitude diverted resources to other areas, such as the V2.

  14. Ian 16

    Japan's Atomic Bomb ?

    No mention as to why the ferry was sunk in Canadian waters by the Americans?

    hmmmm I wonder where it was going...

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Wait a minute

    Ford Escort, rotting old Metro, Vauxhall Cavalier, cube of uranium, Nissan Bluebird..

    Yeah, sounds like my local scrappies.

  16. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Thumb Up

    @MattBryant, @JohnG


    "There's not enough recognition of the fact that Heisenberg and some of his colleagues deliberately steered the Axis project away from a bomb towards nucleur power."

    There is alsow a view that this a post facto rationalisation that they got the critical mass figures *seriously* wrong by orders of magnitude. AFAIK the correct answer is worked out in the Los Alamos Primer.

    The evidence is that Heisenberg and a number of other physicists were held in a country house in the UK after the war. The house was heavily bugged and their conversations monitored. They were shocked at the reports of the bombs on Hiroshima andd Nagasaki and could not believe they had worked. It's described IIRC in a BBC documentary in the

    "Timewatch" series.

    The description of Physics by members of the Nazi party as "Jewish science" would certainly have had an effect on getting priority treatment for funds and facilites.


    "According to a local historian, a research facility in Darmstadt had a working nuclear reactor in 1943. "

    Doubtful, although the first US pile went critical about that time in Chicago. I *dimly* recall something in David Irvings* book "The Virus House" which (despite its title) is a history of German nuclear research in WWII. My impression was that at some sites they were *very* close to critical, but it's not clear how you would control the design. In one case it was cubes of Uranium strung like diamonds in a 3d lattice but put into *frozen* heavy water as the moderator. This sounded more like a V0.9 experiement than a controllable design.

    BTW the original Canadian "CANDU" reactor design also used Deuterium Oxide. It's been quite succesful because it *eliminates* the requirement for Uranium enrichment, complicating reactor design a bit but eliminating the *huge* enrichment back end needed otherwise. Quite a good option if you wanted to get something running without builing an enormous and vulnerable seperation plant.

    thumbs up because it's amazing what you can find in a junk yard.

    Yes, *that* David Irving. The Virus House is more a straight historical accout, less a neo Nazi love poem.

  17. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    Nazi Nuclear

    Did Eon buy up British Energy then?

  18. Glen Turner 666

    What was sunk was a year's headstart for a heavy water plant in Germany

    Phil 54:

    Knut Haukelid -- the leader of the group which both raided the Vermork heavy water plant and later sunk the ferry carrying the essence of that plant to Germany -- goes into some detail in his book and other writings. After all, it was his decision to kill civilians whilst sinking the ferry.

    The barrels were of low concentration. He knew that from spies in the plant. This was because his raid had been so successful at destroying the higher concentrations, because of low-level sabotage of production since the raid, and because the Nazis were just bundling the whole plant into barrels as-is (ie, the barrels were not "heavy water" but the intermediate storages within a heavy water plant). However, they were still a year's output from the only large heavy water plant in Europe, thus they would allow a new heavy water plant in Germany to get a year's head-start.

    It is easy to look back in retrospect -- knowing that VE Day is in May 1945 -- and say that the Nazi's had no hope of producing an atom bomb. But you imagine yourself in Norway in February 1944 -- before the Normandy Landings -- with the opportunity to delay the Nazi atom bomb by a year. Of course you are going to take the opportunity.

  19. Anonymous Coward

    "...taken good care not to big that aspect ...up"

    Is it to much to ask that authors on thise site don't lower themselves to using the language of American street gangs?

    1. Sarah Bee (Written by Reg staff)

      Re: "...taken good care not to big that aspect ...up"

      Yes. Next question.

This topic is closed for new posts.