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The Norwegian heavy water sabotage was a series of actions undertaken by Norwegian saboteurs during World War II to prevent the German nuclear energy project from acquiring heavy water (deuterium oxide), which could be used to produce nuclear weapons. In 1934, at Vemork, Norsk Hydro built the first commercial plant capable of producing heavy water as a byproduct of fertilizer production. It had a capacity of 12 t (13 short tons) per year. During World War II, the Allies decided to remove the heavy water supply and destroy the heavy water plant in order to inhibit the Nazi development of nuclear weapons. Raids were aimed at the 60-MW Vemork power station at the Rjukan waterfall in Telemark.

Knut Haukelid, who was the only trained commando in the immediate area, was informed of the German plan to remove the heavy water and advised he would have to muster support and destroy the shipment. He decided to sabotage the ferry carrying the heavy water across Lake Tinnsjø. He recognised a ferry crew member and talked to him, taking this advantage to slip into the bottom of the ship and plant the bomb, after which he slipped away.

Eight and a half kilograms of plastic explosive with two alarm-clock fuses were fixed to the keel of the ferry, SF Hydro, which was to carry the railway cars with the heavy water drums across Lake Tinnsjø. On 20 February 1944, shortly after setting off around midnight, the ferry and its cargo sank in deep water, finally capping the original mission"s objective and halting Germany"s atomic bomb development programme. A number of Norwegian civilians were killed as the ferry sank. Witnesses reported seeing steel drums floating after the sinking, leading to speculation that they did not really contain heavy water, but an examination of records after the war showed that some barrels were only half full, and therefore would have floated. A few of these may have been salvaged and transported to Germany.

In 2005, an expedition retrieved a barrel (numbered "26") from the bottom of the lake. Its contents of heavy water matched the concentration noted in the German records, and confirmed that the shipment was not a decoy. However, it also supported the notion that the concentration of heavy water in a number of the barrels was too small to be of value to a weapons program. This might explain the absence of heavy security measures around the shipment, including why the ferry itself was not searched for delayed charges. In the film, Heroes of Telemark, the locomotive and train is shown, somewhat implausibly covered with German soldiers. In the Ray Mears BBC coverage, it is stated that in fact the General in command had ordered this specific disposition of troops.



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