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New TV Series Gives Us The Best Look At World War II Atomic Sabotage

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Alright, so it's a Norwegian TV series, but if you die in Norway you die in real life so I'll count it. And since The Heavy Water War focuses on a uniquely Norwegian facet of one of the less-well known events of World War II, you might even say that it gives it an especially pertinent focus.

The new docu-drama series is one of the biggest in Norwegian television history, costing €8.7 million, and its stated goal is to tell the story of the secret attack on a heavy water-producing Norwegian power plant, captured by the Nazis, which the Germans hoped to use in development of their own atomic bomb.


Obviously, if the Nazis managed to obtain nukes, world history may have been completely different. Obviously, they didn't, and historians generally agree that they never actually came close (partially due to the fact that they expelled and mocked all the scientists who did know how to build a bomb), but during the Second World War no one was going to take any chances.

The true story is long and convoluted, but I'll do my best to give you a brief primer. In the 1930s, a Norwegian power company called Norsk Hydro built a plant that was capable of producing heavy water as a byproduct of fertilizer production. Heavy water, also known as deuterium oxide, is called that because it's, well, heavier than normal water. In more specific terms, it's heavier because some of the hydrogen atoms have an extra neutron, making heavy water 11% denser than normal water.


Heavy water doesn't have much practical use, and it's not really toxic to humans, but the one place it does have a use is in a nuclear reactor. Nuclear reactors need some sort of moderator, to make sure the atomic chain reaction doesn't get out of hand. The first reactor in the world, Chicago Pile-1, was built by the Americans as part of the Manhattan Project, and it used graphite bricks as a moderator.

The Germans wanted to use heavy water as a moderator for their own nuclear program, and Norway was one of the few places they could get it. Conveniently enough for the Germans, Adolf Hitler planned on invading Norway.

And the British knew it. Using a team of four British-trained Norwegian commandos, they launched Operation Grouse to destroy the plant. Grouse was followed by more sabotage actions, and then by further Allied bombing raids, and the plant was eventually put out of commission before the Nazis could turn London into a barren landscape of nuclear hellfire.

So now that you have a little background, go watch the six-minute long trailer for The Heavy Water War. Don't worry if you don't speak Norwegian, the Youtube video comes equipped with subtitles.


It debuts on January 4th, according to Cineuropa. I'm sure you'll find some way to watch it.