Feeds

Lost Nazi nuke-project uranium found in Dutch scrapyard

Atomic CSI team fingerprints 1940s 'Joachimsthal' metals

Bridging the IT gap between rising business demands and ageing tools

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 dates. Apparently both came from ores extracted at the "Joachimsthal" mine in what is now the Czech Republic, though the two are from different production batches.

The cube, according to specialists at the JRC's Institute for Transuranium Elements (ITU), was produced in 1943 for the Nazi nuclear programme and was used in the lab of famous boffin Werner Heisenberg (of uncertainty principle fame). The plate was apparently part of experiments by Heisenberg's collaborator Karl Wirtz.

Most historical analysis, with hindsight, suggests that the Nazi nuclear research programme never got very close to developing an atomic weapon. There was no equivalent of the Manhattan Project; rather, different lines of research were followed in different labs. Furthermore the Germans were hampered by having driven many top physicists out of the country with their anti-Semitic policies, and also by drafting other boffins into the army to fight as ordinary soldiers.

Not content with that, the Nazi leadership also chose to clash with the few top brains they had left. At one point Reichsfuhrer Himmler suggested that Heisenberg should be treated as a "White Jew", with presumably fatal consequences. Himmler later changed his mind, but this climate can hardly have encouraged Heisenberg to do his best work.

The halting progress of the Germans was largely unknown to the Allies, however, a factor which prompted the crash efforts of the Manhattan project. In particular, German plans to acquire large quantities of heavy water from Norway for use as a reactor moderator aroused intense worry among the Allies. A sequence of clandestine operations and bombing raids - by the French and British secret services, Norwegian resistance fighters, spec-ops troops and allied air forces - took place, which saw heavy water and its production tech stolen, repeatedly blown up and in one case sunk aboard a sabotaged ferry.

Though the Telemark operations were some of the greatest spec-ops successes ever seen, they may not in fact have been all that critical. After the war, Heisenberg said that he and his colleagues had always been doubtful of the potential of nuclear fission as an explosive. Furthermore, they had taken good care not to big that aspect of the research up to their Nazi masters, for reasons of self-interest.

"We definitely did not want to get into this bomb business," said Heisenberg. "I wouldn't like to idealize this; we did this also for our personal safety. We thought that the probability that this would lead to atomic bombs during the War was nearly zero. If we had done otherwise, and if many thousand people had been put to work on it and then if nothing had been developed, this could have had extremely disagreeable consequences for us."

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:

A key international topic today is the work of preventing the spread of nuclear weapon technology and illicit trafficking of nuclear materials that can be used for the production of nuclear weapons or so-called dirty bombs.

They've just set up a new "large geometry secondary ion mass spectrometer" which they're very proud of, which should be very handy for nobbling nuclear malefactors. ®

Mobile application security vulnerability report

More from The Register

next story
Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 claimed lives of HIV/AIDS cure scientists
Researchers, advocates, health workers among those on shot-down plane
Mwa-ha-ha-ha! Eccentric billionaire Musk gets his PRIVATE SPACEPORT
In the Lone Star State, perhaps appropriately enough
All those new '5G standards'? Here's the science they rely on
Radio professor tells us how wireless will get faster in the real world
The Sun took a day off last week and made NO sunspots
Someone needs to get that lazy star cooking again before things get cold around here
Diary note: Pluto's close-up is a year from … now!
New Horizons is less than a year from the dwarf planet
Boffins discuss AI space program at hush-hush IARPA confab
IBM, MIT, plenty of others invited to fill Uncle Sam's spy toolchest, but where's Google?
prev story

Whitepapers

Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Reducing security risks from open source software
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Consolidation: the foundation for IT and business transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.