History of Science Museum: Collection Database Search


Heavy water sample

Ordinary water contains minute amounts of heavy water or deuterium oxide (D2O), extracted by means of electrolysis on an industrial scale. The liquid is used as a moderator of neutrons in nuclear power plants and as a tracer in the study of chemical or biological processes.

The Norwegian Hydro-Electric Company was the only firm in the late thirties producing this substance in quantity because of the availability of cheap electricity. It was Germany's only source of heavy water. The Allies decided to destroy the plant in 1943 to prevent the Germans buiding an atomic bomb. After sabotage missions and subsequent bombing by the US Air Force the Germans decided to move the entire stock of heavy water to Germany. The ferry carrying the heavy water was sunk by the Norwegian Resistance in Lake Tunnsjö.

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