Heavy Water and the Wartime Race for Nuclear Energy
Heavy water (deuterium oxide) played a sinister role in the race for nuclear energy during the World War II. It was a key factor in Germany's bid to harness atomic energy primarily as a source of electric power; its acute shortage was a factor in Japan's decision not to pursue seriously nuclear weaponry; its very existence was a nagging thorn in the side of the Allied powers. Books and films have dwelt on the Allies' efforts to deny the Germans heavy water by military means; however, a history of heavy water has yet to be written.
Filling this gap, Heavy Water and the Wartime Race for Nuclear Energy concentrates on the circumstances whereby Norway became the preeminent producer of heavy water and on the scientific role the rare isotope of hydrogen played in the wartime efforts by the Axis and Allied powers alike. Instead of a purely technical treatise on heavy water, the book describes the social history of the subject.
The book covers the discovery and early uses of deuterium before World War II and its large-scale production by Norsk Hydro in Norway, especially under German control. It also discusses the French-German race for the Norwegian heavy-water stocks in 1940 and heavy water's importance for the subsequent German uranium project, including the Allied sabotage and bombing of the Norwegian plants, as well as its lesser role in Allied projects, especially in the United States and Canada. The book concludes with an overall assessment of the importance and the perceived importance of heavy water for the German program, which alone staked everything on heavy water in its quest for a nuclear chain reaction.