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The Germans succeeded in getting a nuclear reactor to work


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#1 T. A. Gardner

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Posted 06 December 2009 - 08:30 PM

As we know, the Germans actually did not succeed in this endevor during the war. But, what if they had by say 1942 a decent working reactor of one design or another; one that produced useful amounts of energy?
What I am looking at here is not their producing a bomb but rather, producing a useful power plant using nuclear energy. While a nuclear power plant couldn't replace oil for mobile power uses it could have greatly increased the amount of electrical energy Germany could produce. As such it would have had the potential to expand their synthetic fuel production and provide power to industry in general.
As a collary to this, what effect might such a plant have on events if it were to have come under attack from the Allies by bombing and its destruction? This too could have had negative implications for the Germans in terms of the spread of radioactive materials as a result.

#2 John Dudek

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Posted 07 December 2009 - 05:03 AM

My guess is, that with a country as closed and locked down by various security services running freely through every level of society, such information pertaining to a German nuclear reactor would never be leaked to the Allies until it was finally over run and discovered in the final days of the war.

#3 Kai-Petri

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Posted 07 December 2009 - 07:22 AM

The Germans were just bombed more and more starting 1942-43, and Speer´s decisions in production gave effect in 1944. So even with a nuclear power plant it might not be a crucial help to the production as the Germans were going for total war from early 1943 only.

However, I believe the the plant would be known by the Allied quite early enough, as they had Ultra and also important info leaking to the Allied through Switzerland.

And in the end Adolf Hitler would demand that the power plant would be used only to create an A-bomb and not solve power problems...
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#4 mac_bolan00

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Posted 08 December 2009 - 12:48 AM

the germans' strategic problem has always been strategic raw material, not energy.

#5 T. A. Gardner

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Posted 08 December 2009 - 03:16 AM

Actually, having a very cheap source of energy would be a boon to Germany. It would make synthetic fuel production far more practical as this requres alot of steam to produce. A viable reactor would have given Germany just such a source.

As for bomb production, so long as Heisenburg and other German physicists thought a bomb would take tons of highly enriched uranium to produce Hitler would have been satisfied with the prospect of cheap power from a reactor and authorized that to go ahead instead.

Never underestimate Nazi short-sightedness.

#6 Devilsadvocate

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Posted 08 December 2009 - 03:52 AM

Actually, having a very cheap source of energy would be a boon to Germany. It would make synthetic fuel production far more practical as this requres alot of steam to produce. A viable reactor would have given Germany just such a source.

As for bomb production, so long as Heisenburg and other German physicists thought a bomb would take tons of highly enriched uranium to produce Hitler would have been satisfied with the prospect of cheap power from a reactor and authorized that to go ahead instead.


An atomic reactor could be both a "breeder" reactor, producing plutonium for weapons production and an "energy" reactor producing steam to turn turbines to generate electricity or for other industrial purposes. Heisenberg, at least understood this. But he had no interest in producing a bomb because he believed the technical hurdles were so daunting that it would be many years before they could be resolved. He continually reiterated this belief to Speer and other Nazi officials, until they too became resigned to simply building reactors.

Never underestimate Nazi short-sightedness.


Boy, ain't it the truth!

Despite Heisenberg's statements that even just building a reactor would be extremely beneficial to Germany's war effort, Speer and Goering assigned the lowest possible priority to Heisenberg's project. Heisenberg had reported that nuclear power could be adapted to propel submarines, surface vessels, and possibly even tanks, but it took him a year and a half to procure the uranium oxide he needed to build an experimental reactor; Fermi, in the US, attempting the same thing, received his uranium oxide in less than a month.

#7 T. A. Gardner

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Posted 08 December 2009 - 04:32 AM

Fermi also had the great advantage of knowing that carbon, in the form of graphite, would work as a moderator for an unenriched reactor design. The Germans fixated on heavy water as a moderator making it far more difficult to procure that necessary component too. Just one mistake after another with them.....

#8 Devilsadvocate

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Posted 08 December 2009 - 06:35 AM

Fermi also had the great advantage of knowing that carbon, in the form of graphite, would work as a moderator for an unenriched reactor design. The Germans fixated on heavy water as a moderator making it far more difficult to procure that necessary component too. Just one mistake after another with them.....


Heisenberg was aware that ultrapure carbon would be an ideal moderator, but when he began canvassing German industry to find a manufacturer who could produce ultrapure carbon in the required quantities, there were none; it was beyond German industrial capability to mass produce carbon of that quality. The US also looked into using heavy water as a moderator, but fortunately for the US, it could mass produce ultrapure carbon.

Heisenberg used paraffin experimentally but realized it wouldn't work when the size of the reactor was scaled up. Heavy water was the only practical alternative for the Germans, and then only because they had captured the Norwegian mass production facilities for heavy water.

#9 panzer kampf gruppen 6

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Posted 08 December 2009 - 08:33 PM

Ahhhhh if germany knew what's good for them they wouldn't by 1943 the allies were pounding germany and if they foundout the ractor central germany would turn in to an early version of cherobyl.

#10 Totenkopf

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Posted 08 December 2009 - 09:46 PM

Ahhhhh if germany knew what's good for them they wouldn't by 1943 the allies were pounding germany and if they foundout the ractor central germany would turn in to an early version of cherobyl.


How would they find out? Any sort of project within Germany such as that would never let the workers out to tell anyone, and it would likely be deep underground anyway.

Heh.. they are scratching your paint job, Helmut!


#11 Devilsadvocate

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Posted 08 December 2009 - 10:25 PM

How would they find out? Any sort of project within Germany such as that would never let the workers out to tell anyone, and it would likely be deep underground anyway.


It's entirely possible that the Allies might have found out about any reactor or nuclear weapons under development. German physicists were encouraged to travel to German-occupied countries and neutral nations to lecture on their work; such lectures would reveal to their fellow physicists just how advanced German physics was and whether a reactor was under construction or not. Word could then get to Allied intelligence.

In fact, during the war, Heisenberg was on one such trip to Switzerland and was invited to dinner with an anti-German Swiss physicists. Sated next to Heisenberg was a man named Morris Berg. Berg, an ex-Boston Red Sox catcher, and Princeton physics grad student, had a loaded pistol in his pocket with orders to assassinate Heisenberg the moment he gave any hint that Germany was making any progress on a nuclear weapon. Fortunately for Heisenberg, the conversation never turned to nuclear weapons and was confined to the theories involved in building an "atomic engine", Heisenberg's term for a reactor.

And no, reactors on an industrial scale require large amounts of water for cooling and are almost always located on rivers, large lakes, or the coastline, not underground.

#12 Gromit801

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Posted 09 December 2009 - 12:00 AM

I think the war would have been over before the Germans had a workable reactor/power station. Look at the US and Britain. Even with the workable reactor, it was some years before anything was accomplished in the way of power generation.
"I love deadlines. I love the 'Whooshing' noise they make when they go by." - Doug Adams

#13 panzer kampf gruppen 6

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Posted 09 December 2009 - 12:54 AM

Don't you guys think this is alittle out of hand germany could not make a atomic bomb let alone how are they going to find somthing cool enough to keep the rods at a stable tempature? Plus they have not safe place in germany to make it and the germans used slave labor so give it a 50%-80% chance the the reactor would over heat and blow.

#14 Totenkopf

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Posted 09 December 2009 - 02:39 AM

Don't you guys think this is alittle out of hand germany could not make a atomic bomb let alone how are they going to find somthing cool enough to keep the rods at a stable tempature? Plus they have not safe place in germany to make it and the germans used slave labor so give it a 50%-80% chance the the reactor would over heat and blow.



You can be sure that slaves wouldnt be used in a project so important to the Germans, they couldnt be trusted for the reasons you said, as well as the fact that word of major things always finds its way. Unless of coarse they were shot afterward.


DA: My mistake there, I forgot the massive amounts of water needed for a reactor to run. I wonder if there was any major rivers in Germany's huge forests that could hide a reactor facility?

Heh.. they are scratching your paint job, Helmut!


#15 LRusso216

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Posted 09 December 2009 - 02:50 AM

Here's a link to a pretty good evaluation of German progress in the nuclear field. It examines the role of Heisenberg and others in the development of the German attempt to create a nuclear reactor.
German Nuclear Weapons

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#16 Devilsadvocate

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Posted 09 December 2009 - 03:16 AM

Don't you guys think this is alittle out of hand germany could not make a atomic bomb let alone how are they going to find somthing cool enough to keep the rods at a stable tempature? Plus they have not safe place in germany to make it and the germans used slave labor so give it a 50%-80% chance the the reactor would over heat and blow.


Germany might have made an atomic bomb if the German physicists on the project had not made so many mistakes. Their leader, Heisenberg, was more interested in his reputation as a brilliant theoretical physicist than in researching the necessary issues to produce a bomb. Heisenberg reported to Speer and Goering that an atomic bomb was possible but that he doubted Germany could produce one for many years because of the huge technical hurdles which had to be overcome, yet there is no evidence, other than his word, that he even did the necessary calculations. One of the things he told Speer was that an atomic bomb would require an enormous amount of fissionable material, yet when he was asked later by a senior German Army officer how big a nuclear weapon capable of destroying a city like London would be, he replied; "About the size of a pineapple". Not surprisingly, some Germans thought the man was insane.

Heisenberg and other German physicists may have been reluctant to attempt to build a bomb because, if they failed, Hitler might hold them responsible and send them to the concentration camps. Similar things did indeed happen to German scientists in other areas of research.

Heisenberg, and his German rival Diebner, both built reactors that approached critical mass, but neither were able to design a reactor that could generate a sustainable chain reaction. This was partially due to the low priority that Speer assigned to the two projects; obtaining the necessary materials was very time consuming and it's entirely possible that had Heisenberg and Diebner had more time to experiment with their reactors they might have been able to get one to work.

There did not seem to be much urgency in the German projects; Heisenberg, unlike his American counterpart, Oppenheimer, also taught university physics courses and was required to spend eight weeks doing reserve military training in the summer (he was a corporal in a mountain infantry regiment), as well as making propaganda appearances before neutral Physicists.

Incidentally, the Germans used Cadmium as a control substance just like the Americans did. But it's clear their understanding of nuclear fission was far behind the American team's understanding. For example, while the Americans were extremely safety conscious, the Germans weren't. In fact, Heisenberg's last experimental reactor achieved 670% "multiplication" which was close to a sustainable chain reaction, but had they succeeded, Heisenberg and his staff would have all died of radiation poisoning, as there was absolutely no shielding for the reactor vessel; they didn't realize this until they were already starting the experimental reactor.

#17 panzer kampf gruppen 6

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Posted 09 December 2009 - 03:36 AM

I was wondering were was the germans getting the urnium from?

#18 Devilsadvocate

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Posted 09 December 2009 - 04:56 AM

I was wondering were was the germans getting the urnium from?


Some extremely rich ore came from mines in the Belgian Congo that had been shipped to Belgium, and which was captured when Germany overran that country in 1940; it wasn't a large quantity, but was significant because of the purity of the ore. Most of the rest came from the lower grade ore of the Joachimstahl mines in German-occupied Czechoslovakia. Because of a low priority on the German atomic projects, German industry wasn't able to produce a great deal of uranium oxide on a timely basis.

#19 panzer kampf gruppen 6

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Posted 09 December 2009 - 12:02 PM

The germans tested what we call a dirty bomb thinking it was atomic but it wasent.But they used on soviet pows,jews,slavs,ect killed alot of people.

#20 lwd

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Posted 09 December 2009 - 02:47 PM

The germans tested what we call a dirty bomb thinking it was atomic but it wasent.But they used on soviet pows,jews,slavs,ect killed alot of people.

Got any documentation on this?

#21 brndirt1

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Posted 09 December 2009 - 04:01 PM

The germans tested what we call a dirty bomb thinking it was atomic but it wasent.But they used on soviet pows,jews,slavs,ect killed alot of people.


There is no evidence this is true, but it was a section of a tabloid style TV program concerning Mussolini's secret envoy to Hitler or something. This is also highly suspect, as the old gentleman who made the accusation wasn't in Germany at the time, and it is highly unlikely that the "secret wonder weapon" would be shared with a now dethroned Mussolini. The soil testing done is not verified, that was supposed to show an extremely high concentration of radiation in that area, it doesn't.

Mussolini was by then in that rump section of northern Italy, and unlikely to be given much true information in any event.
Happy Trails,
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#22 panzer kampf gruppen 6

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Posted 09 December 2009 - 04:04 PM

I was watching a documentary on german nuclear testing mussolini sent a reporter to find out about the weapones.look it up it true it was a test they set it up it was on purpose.

#23 brndirt1

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Posted 09 December 2009 - 04:35 PM

I was watching a documentary on german nuclear testing mussolini sent a reporter to find out about the weapones.look it up it true it was a test they set it up it was on purpose.


I watched it as well, hoping to see something of actual interest. It was all fiction, no matter how it was "presented" (as a documentary). Or at least so vague as to be unsupportable. The idea of a "dirty bomb" has been posited before, by many others, but what would the "dirty" isotope be? The one most commonly put forward is radium, which was known of. However clear into the thirties "radium" was still being sold on the open market (in very small quantities) as a "cure all" for everything from acne to hemeroids. It is VERY expensive in even small quantities.

Radium is very expensive to extract from uranium ores, in the mid-grade Czech ores (Nazi source), ninety tons of ore yield less than one ounce (28.43 grams) of radium and the complex job of extracting it is Very, VERY, expensive.

In nature, uranium atoms exist as U-238 (99.284%), U-235 (0.711%),and a very small amount of Ra-226, or radium (0.0058%). Radium is a rare very metal. Its compounds are found in all uranium ores; there is usually about 1 part of radium to 3 million parts of uranium in these ores. In luminous paints the ratio is about 1 part radioactive material per 40,000 parts paint.

Although some radium used today is obtained from carnotite from Colorado, the chief sources are carnotite from Congo (Kinshasa) and pitchblende from W Canada and Russia. Radium is present in all uranium minerals and is widely distributed in small amounts. Radium is usually obtained (with barium impurities) in residues from the production of uranium. It is recovered as the bromide by an involved chemical process. The small amount of the element present in any ore and the difficulty of extraction make it expensive.

In the thirties the extraction of pure radium was so expensive that one gram of pure radium was priced at between $50,000-$70,000. Radium does not occur free (ly) in nature but occurs in natural ores such as pitchblende as a disintegration product of radioactive decay of heavier elements, including uranium. (all emphasis mine)

See:

Ra-226 definition of Ra-226 in the Free Online Encyclopedia.

Now I’m pointing this out as radium (which does emit alpha, beta, and gamma rays), has been put forward as the "material" in a dirty bomb, but those persons then ignore that radium is a VERY SLOW killer, and a weapon that takes years to become a "death dealer" isn’t a good bet on which to spend Reichmarks, is it? Making an area "uninhabitable" isn’t a war winning strategy, but even though Hitler wasn’t know for his rational thought, even he wouldn’t wish to pour money into something that killed in generations or so.

I wonder if this tale of massive soil radiation might somehow be tied to the accident in which Heisenberg's group did manage to construct what they called the "Uranium Machine" at Leipzig using giant hollow half-spheres of aluminum, bolted together surrounding powdered uranium oxide pellets (?) or uranium oxide plates (not weapons grade U-235) and Deuterium. Even though this has nothing to do with "a dirty bomb", only "powdered uranium"? It certainly "turned dirty" when it failed! It likely irradiated a pretty large area when it went "blooey" from the steam pressure!

That event produced fires which were extremely difficult to extinguish, but weren’t from an "atomic explosion". But even then, unlike true radioisotopes, which are byproducts of nuclear reactors or of industrial sized separation processes (which no-one in the Axis had), naturally occurring uranium doesn't even emit penetrating gamma rays that cause radiation poisoning. Instead, it slowly radiates weak alpha particles, which can't even penetrate skin.

Since the fellow wasn't even a scientist (a reporter?), how would he know if what he was told had any basis of fact or not? I got the impression that he was taking "secrets" to Mussolini to simply bolster Benito's moral and "keep him in the game" a bit longer. Hitler was not well known for telling anyone the truth or sharing any secrets with anyone either.

Edited by brndirt1, 09 December 2009 - 04:41 PM.

Happy Trails,
Clint.

#24 Devilsadvocate

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Posted 09 December 2009 - 05:53 PM

The Germans apparently understood even less about the harmful effects of radiation than did the Americans. In their experiments with various reactor designs they consistently failed to include any shielding which would protect the operators. In one case Heisenberg did wrap the containment vessel in industrial grade graphite, but this was to see if the carbon would reflect neutrons back into the pile and thus enhance the chain reaction. At least the Americans always included shielding and other safety measures to control and contain radiation contamination

The last test Heisenberg conducted on the B-8 reactor could have cost him and his staff their lives had it gone critical, because there was no shielding against the radiation effects. Deibner also was pretty careless about radiation danger from what I have read of his experiments. I find it unlikely that the Germans would have even thought about "dirty" bombs when they didn't even know enough to about radiation to protect themselves.

The Leipzig accident involving Heisenberg's research (I think it was the L-3 experiment that went wrong) occurred because of the use of powdered uranium oxide and heavy water. The water leaked into the pile and caused a chemical reaction which set the uranium oxide on fire. The resulting steam pressure caused an explosion which scattered burning uranium oxide over a large area. It was NOT an atomic explosion, but it did result in radiation contamination over a large area.

#25 marc780

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Posted 09 December 2009 - 10:14 PM

As we know, the Germans actually did not succeed in this endevor during the war. But, what if they had by say 1942 a decent working reactor of one design or another; one that produced useful amounts of energy?
What I am looking at here is not their producing a bomb but rather, producing a useful power plant using nuclear energy....


Nuclear power would have been swell but AC power was the least of Germany's problems during the war. (Even General of fighters Adolph Galland wondered why the allies never made a determined effort to knock out the German power grid. The allies thought that German power generation facilities were too dispursed and interconnected to hit effectively from the air. They were wrong.) Don't you think that the bottom line is, whoever developed an A-bomb first, and used it, would probably win the war?

The Manhatten Project proceeded with great speed during the war, mostly out of fears that the Germans were working on developing an A-bomb themselves. They were, but not only did they have a completely wrong approach to the problem (the process involving "heavy water" was no way to an atomic bomb, the Germans simply did not realize it then), the atomic bomb also had a very low priority on the Fuehrer's "secret weapons" agenda. (Perhaps the former Corporal's mind was unable to grasp the idea.)

After the war, American experts were sent to find any and all German research on constructing an atomic bomb. The result of their efforts was that the Americans decided the Germans were years, perhaps decades away from developing one (due to the reasons above).

It's my opinion that had the Germans developed an A-bomb in say late 1944, and used it against the Russians, Stalin would simply have retaliated against Germany with poison and nerve gas attacks. It would most likely not have made Stalin surrender no matter how it was employed (unless Stalin was killed in the initial nuclear strike).




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