Vemork Heavy Water Plant
|Historical Name of Location||Tinn, Telemark, Norway|
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
ww2dbaseIn 1906, the newly founded power company Norsk Hydro-Elektrisk started building the Vemork power station near the Rjukan waterfall in Telemark, Norway. When it completed in 1911, it became the world's largest hydroelectric power plant. One of its major customers was initially a nearby artificial fertilizer plant. In Dec 1934, Vemork became the first heavy water production facility, producing 12 tons per year by a method called electrolysis. Heavy water (deuterium oxide) differed from normal water (hydrogen dioxide) by having the hydrogen isotope deuterium, which was discovered by American physical chemist Harold Urey in 1931. In 1940, both Germany and France approached Norsk Hydro-Elektrisk to purchase the plant's stock of heavy water. Learning that it was for military purposes, the Norwegian government interfered, giving the deal to France in secret; the stock that was smuggled to the Curie Laboratory in France later went to Britain as France fell under German control. The first nuclear reactor in the world used graphite as the neutron moderator, but heavy water was also considered a possible candidate, thus Vemork quickly gathered attention by both sides of the European War. During the German occupation of Norway, the plant was repeatedly sabotaged by British Special Operations Executive between Oct 1942 and Feb 1943, with the 28 Feb 1943 action being the most successful, having destroyed important electrolysis equipment. In Nov 1943, Allied aircraft dropped more than 400 bombs on the facility, causing some damage, but the electrolysis equipment (at the time being repaired from the 28 Feb 1943 saboteur damage) suffered little. The plant resumed normal production of heavy water after the war, and production lasted through 1971. Heavy water produced at Vemork might have assisted in the nuclear weapons programs of India and Israel, among many others. Today the former Vemork power plant hosts the Norwegian Industrial Workers Museum.
Last Major Update: Feb 2017
Vemork Heavy Water Plant Interactive Map
Vemork Heavy Water Plant Timeline
|18 Oct 1942||Four Norwegian agents of the British Special Operations Executive were parachuted near the Vemork heavy water production plant in Telemark, Norway on a reconnaissance mission code named Grouse.|
|19 Nov 1942||A raid on the German-controlled Vemork heavy water plant at Telemark, Norway, came to grief when the gliders carrying 34 commandos crashed. After torturous interrogations, all survivors were shot by the Germans.|
|28 Feb 1943||Six newly arrived Norwegian agents of the British Special Operations Executive (code named Gunnerside) joined the four agents already in place since Oct 1942 (code named Grouse) in sabotaging the Norsk Hydro-Elektrisk Vemork heavy water production plant in Telemark, Norway, thereby depriving German atomic weapons scientists of 500 kilograms of heavy water and near-future heavy water production capability.|
|16 Nov 1943||Allied bombers attacked the Vemork heavy water plant in Norway, which was in the process of being rebuilt by the Germans.|
|20 Feb 1944||On Lake Tinn (Tinnsjo) in Norway, the ferry D/F Hydro, carrying the last of the heavy water produced at Vemork destined for the German atomic weapons reseach program, was sunk by Norwegian resistance saboteurs.|
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|WW2-Era Place Name||Tinn, Telemark, Norway|
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Thomas Dodd, late 1945
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