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Heavy Water and the Norwegians

Article #278 • Written by Alan Bellows

The Vemork hydroelectric plant
The Vemork hydroelectric plant

On 19 November 1942, a pair of Royal Air Force Halifax bombers shouldered their way through thick winter clouds over Norway with troop-carrying assault gliders in tow. Inside each glider a payload of professional saboteurs from the 1st British Airborne Division weathered a rough ride as the planes approached their intended landing site on frozen lake Møsvatn. Somewhere in the snow-encased hills below, a team of Norwegian commandos vigilantly awaited their arrival.

The ultimate objective of the joint mission was to penetrate and incapacitate the Vemork hydroelectric plant, a fortified Nazi facility nestled high in the mountains of Norway. Though the plant's original purpose had been the production of electricity and fertilizer, the German occupiers were capitalizing on the facility's ability to collect large amounts of heavy-water-- a key ingredient in the Nazi effort to develop an atomic bomb.

Scientists at Vemork first observed the curious heavy-water in 1934 when it appeared as a by-product of their revised ammonia production process. Physically and chemically the substance is similar to ordinary water, but while the hydrogen atoms in normal H2O consist of one proton and one electron, many of the hydrogen atoms in heavy-water have the added weight of a neutron-- an isotope known as deuterium. This deuterium oxide (D2O) does exist in water naturally, though its ratio is normally only about one part in 41 million, so it had not been previously observed in significant quantities. For eight years Vemork's scientist had been collecting the exotic liquid for scientific scrutiny, supplying samples to the world's researchers for basic experiments. The Nazis' interest, however, was more considerably more sinister.

In the late 1930s a group of German physicists discovered that certain rare isotopes of uranium are fissile, meaning that their nuclei become unstable and split when they absorb an extra neutron. The nucleus shatters into two smaller nuclei-- which repel one another with great energy due to their mutually repulsive electric charges-- and shrapnel consisting of fast-moving free neutrons. Soon scientists realized that a chain-reaction would be possible inside a clump of fissionable material since the neutrons spawned during one fission could trigger subsequent fissions, and those would trigger more fissions, and so on. Depending on the conditions, this could produce a long-lived source of heat and neutrons, or a short-lived source of exploding and death. They also speculated that a self-sustaining chain reaction would be easier to maintain if they could identify a substance able slow down the loose neutrons to increase their chances of being absorbed.

Frozen heavy-water in ordinary H20
Frozen heavy-water in ordinary H20

The nuclear Nazis identified Norway's heavy-water as one of the best candidates to act as this neutron moderator, so when German forces invaded in 1940 the Vemork plant was an asset they were quick to snatch. Under tightened security, the German scientists doubled the heavy-water production capacity and began shipping barrels of the material back to the weapons laboratories in Berlin. The Norwegian civilian workers knew nothing of nuclear bombs or neutron moderators, but the Nazis' conspicuous interest in the substance prompted members of the resistance to report the activity to British intelligence.

By 1942 the Allied leaders were certain that the heavy water was a critical component in Hitler's effort to produce an atomic weapon. Such neutron moderators were not necessary in atomic bombs, but the German physicists hoped to use heavy-water to moderate a sustained reaction within their stash of rare uranium-235. They could then expose nuggets of the most common uranium isotope (uranium-238) to the slow neutrons spewing out of the reactor, allowing some of the uranium nuclei to slurp up an extra neutron to become uranium-239. U-239 atoms tend to undergo beta decay a couple times over the course of a few days, finally resulting in weapons-grade plutonium-239.

The Allies could not sit idly by as Hitler's henchmen made progress in nuclear weaponry, otherwise the war was sure to come to an abrupt and disagreeable end. The British Royal Air Force considered a nighttime bombing raid on the Vemork to be "unrealistic," so a covert ground assault was mounted. On 19 November 1942, thirty Royal Engineers crowded into a pair of troop gliders and rode to the frozen landscape of Norway towed behind Halifax bombers. In the mountains near the power plant, an advance team of Norwegian commandos waited near the landing zone while the planes struggled through the soupy skies.

As the drone of aircraft engines crept over the horizon towards Jens Anton Paulsson and his three men, there was a dull explosion in the distance. Once its echoes faded only one aircraft could be heard. One of the Halifax bombers had struck a cloud-obscured mountain. The glider pilot-- who had managed to cast off from his ill-fated tug at the last moment-- executed the most graceful crash he could given the mountainous terrain. The remaining airplane circled the area with its own glider in tow as the crew struggled fruitlessly to contact the landing beacon. Eventually they were forced to give up due to low fuel, but as the bomber set off towards home its tow line broke and sent the second glider diving into the snowy hills.

A Halifax bomber towing a Horsa glider
A Halifax bomber towing a Horsa glider

The Germans wasted no time dispatching Gestapo troops to investigate the commotion. Paulsson and his Norwegian resistance fighters knew they could not reach the distant crash sites ahead of the Germans, so they retreated to their mountain hideaway to await instructions. For three long months the men subsisted on whatever moss and lichen they were able to scrounge in the sub-zero temperatures, their diets punctuated by the occasional bit of edible wildlife. Meanwhile the survivors from the crashed gliders were captured, questioned, tortured, and executed under Hitler's top-secret Commando Order which stipulated that all enemy commandos were to be put to death without exception.

On 19 February 1943, six of the Norwegians' countrymen finally arrived by parachute with a fresh supply of food, weapons, and explosives from their British supporters. Following an exchange of greetings, Joachim Ronneberg took command of the group and laid out their attack plan. Once everyone had recuperated, the ten Norwegian men strapped on their skis and set out armed with rifles, submachine guns, chloroform rags, and cyanide suicide pills. Though they had been given no specific details regarding the power plant's purpose, the men had been assured that its destruction would prevent Hitler from gaining the ability to smash entire cities with a single strike.

At three o'clock in the morning on 28 February, the gang of intrepid Norwegians approached their target. The Vemork hydroelectric plant was perched on the edge of a six hundred foot cliff like a fairytale fortress, and accessible via a 240-foot-long bridge which spanned a deep ravine. The area was peppered with mines, and the bridge itself was well-guarded and brightly lit. Rather than tangle with sentries and landmines, the force elected to descend into the gorge and clamber up the cliff on the other side. The resistance fighters soberly exchanged wishes of good luck then skied down to the ravine floor.

The heavy water collectors in Vemork
The heavy water collectors in Vemork

After completing the long and treacherous climb up the icy cliff, Knut Haukelid took command of five of the men and broke off to assume covering positions outside the German barracks. The other four split into two demolition teams, each with a full set of explosives in case one of the teams was unable to reach the target. The four men headed to a basement door which they had been told would be left unlocked, but the undercover operative in charge of the task had fallen ill and missed work that day. The two teams separated to seek alternate points of ingress.

Joachim Ronneberg and his partner Fredrik Kayser soon located a hatch which allowed access to a narrow shaft full of wires and pipes, but the men discovered that there was sufficient room to squeeze through. As the factory's machinery softly grumbled, the pair slowly crawled through the long duct while pushing their explosives ahead of them. At the end of the tunnel the men climbed down a ladder and surveyed their target: a long row of metallic cylinders lining the wall of the heavy-water concentration room. The two raiders sprang into the compartment and caught the lone night watchman completely by surprise. He eagerly complied with their orders to raise his hands, then stood trembling as the armed intruders locked all doors leading into the room. Ronneberg dashed over to the heavy-water tanks and immediately began to place his eighteen explosive charges.

As Ronneberg worked, the factory's low, steady hum was punctured by the sound of shattering glass from the far side of the room. He and Kayser spun around with weapons at the ready. Through the window emerged the two men of the other demolition team, having been unable to find a more suitable entrance. Together the men set and checked the series of charges, and laid fuses which had been cut to provide a delay of only thirty seconds. A Norwegian civilian wandered into the room and was astonished to see a clutch of commandos putting the finishing touches on their demolition charges. He obediently thrust his arms into the air and joined his captive colleague.

The Vemork plant following an Allied raid
The Vemork plant following an Allied raid

Ronneberg lit the bombs' fuses and quietly counted to ten. He then ordered the anxiety-stricken prisoners to run upstairs as fast as they could. Hoping to prevent reprisals against the local populace, the raiders dropped a British machine gun on the floor to disguise the attack as the work of British agents. The demolition teams rejoined their comrades outside and the together they dashed away at full speed. After several long moments, a muffled thud was heard from the Vemork building behind them. Three thousands pounds of D2O sloshed out of the damaged tanks and into the factory's drains, destroying four months' worth of production and severely crippling the heavy-water-gathering apparatus. By the time the Germans realized they were under attack, the ten Norwegian men had donned their skis and slipped away to the safety of the mountains.

The saboteurs had successfully silenced the water plant, but German engineers began repairs immediately and within five months their heavy-water collectors were back in action. By the following winter the Allies had the means to attack the target by air, and during one long day in November 1943, one hundred and forty three American B-17s ambled over the horizon and pounded the Vemork complex area with over seven hundred bombs. Due to the terrain many of the bombs missed and most of the structure managed to remain intact, but the forceful series of attacks persuaded the Germans to abandon the plant.

In a last ditch effort to salvage the remains of the operation, the Nazi scientists loaded their massive bounty of heavy-water into a railcar. Under the care of a large guard detail the precious deuterium oxide began its journey to Berlin. The armed procession boarded a railcar ferry to carry it across lake Tinnsjø, and as the boat crossed the deepest portion of the lake there was a sharp bang below decks. The ferry foundered and sank, dragging the bulk of Germany's atomic bomb program into a deep and watery grave. The Norwegian saboteur Knut Haukelid-- the man who led the covering team on the raid against Vemork-- had learned of the plans to move the cargo, and smuggled a makeshift time bomb aboard the ferry before the Germans arrived. Unfortunately fourteen civilians were killed when the boat sank, but resistance leaders reasoned that these losses were acceptable considering the thousands of lives that would have been forfeit if Hitler's nuclear program had come to fruition.

Most of the Vemork raiders
Most of the Vemork raiders

Though the Norwegians' handiwork did not manage to completely halt the progress of the Nazi's atomic bomb project, it created significant stumbling blocks. According to some controversial reports, the Nazis did manage to build and test a small nuclear device just before the war ended, but it was reportedly a crude design far inferior to the bombs dropped on Japan some months later by the US. In any case, Nazi Germany certainly possessed the knowledge and skills necessary to construct a bomb; they merely lacked the resources.

In modern history there are few examples of such small works of sabotage leading to such dramatic effect. By some estimations, the raids at Vemork were all that prevented Hitler from gaining control over Europe and ruling with a plutonium fist. Indeed, had the Nazis worked unhindered, the world's first atomic mushroom cloud may have loomed over London by the mid-1940s. In that respect, these stalwart saboteurs and their daring mission in the mountains of Norway may have spared the world from a far worse fate.

Article written by Alan Bellows, published on 19 June 2007. Alan is the founder/designer/head writer/managing editor of Damn Interesting.

Suggested by Lauri Pekonen.

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Posted 19 June 2007 at 04:00 pm

Excellent story. Very interesting!

Posted 19 June 2007 at 04:23 pm

Second post! Great story. It's amazing that the Norwegians survived for months out in the wilderness in a good enough condition to be able to mount the attack once fresh supplies arrived.
Outstanding effort!

Posted 19 June 2007 at 04:25 pm

I think the first mushroom cloud at that point would probably have been over Moscow... until quite late in the game, the German leaders saw Great Britain mostly as a thorn in their sides, albeit a painful one.

Posted 19 June 2007 at 04:27 pm

Oh, and DI! Yay for Norway! Hurrah for Alan!

Posted 19 June 2007 at 04:37 pm

That was just like out of a Tom Clancy novel Alan, great work!!

I've always been a great lover of spies, sabotage, and conspiracies. It's scary to think Germany came so close to being the first with the atomic bomb. And I think it really does, in a way, reillustrate why the US atomic bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima were necessary evils. Just like Knut and the boat he sunk, we have to consider the greater good. A shame it all had to end the way it did, but thank goodness it ended!

I do wonder though, are we currently utilizing any heavy-water technology? Or have we advanced well past that? The statement that the subsequent fissions can produce a long term source of heat makes me think maybe they could use it for some kind of energy purposes?

Posted 19 June 2007 at 05:05 pm

Interesting, indeed. The episode of PBS' "Nova" that dealt with this same set of events downplayed the importance of the nuclear weapons program to the Nazis even further. As an historian interviewed for that episode put it, the Nazis appreciated the potential of a nuclear weapon, but also estimated that their war would be lost or won in too short a time to expend the resources on developing it. The heavy water, as it was stated in the episode, was on its way to a laboratory that was more or less run as a hobby venture. The amount that was brought to the ferry and sunk, they said, was insufficient to use in a serious effort to develop a nuclear weapon. I may be misremembering parts of it--but it was a fascinating show.

Posted 19 June 2007 at 05:44 pm

TOTALLY agree! That was straight out of a Tom Clancey/James Bond, what an interesting story!

"I do wonder though, are we currently utilizing any heavy-water technology? Or have we advanced well past that? The statement that the subsequent fissions can produce a long term source of heat makes me think maybe they could use it for some kind of energy purposes?"

Im not a nuclear physicist by any means, but there is still heavy water involved in nuclear reactors,. I remember being on a tour and them telling us that the heavy water could effectively take a penny you dropped in, sink it to the bottom... hold it there long enough to become radiated, and then send the penny back to the surface! Talk about bad luck lol

Well heres to the story, and to an action packed piece of adventure pie! (smothered of course with an air of mystery, intrigue, and a couple of cheesy awesome one liners delivered by a suave British agent)

Captain Blowhard
Posted 19 June 2007 at 06:18 pm

This is a great story that always leaves me in awe of the commandos that took part in this. The way they survived in the harsh climate with no supplies for so long is a story in itself. I recommend Ray Mears " The Real Heroes Of Telemark" to anyone interested in this story, it gives a great insight into the amazing endurance and bravery of these guys.
Here is a link with a picture of the plant, it also has more information and a picture of the exploded upgrading unit !

Posted 19 June 2007 at 06:28 pm

I love Norwegian people!!! Someday I will marry a Norwegian rocket scientist. Does that have to do anything with the story? No, but it's a good goal, along with lots of pie.

Posted 19 June 2007 at 06:32 pm

*anything to do. Sorry.

another viewpoint
Posted 19 June 2007 at 06:53 pm

...GREAT STORY! ..."ruling with a plutonium fist"...luv it... way to go Alan!

Posted 19 June 2007 at 07:01 pm

most DI article I've read in quite sometime. A+ work!

Posted 19 June 2007 at 07:39 pm

I first read about this fascinating story in Reader's Digest at least 20 years ago. I probably mis-read the story since at the time I was under the impression that it was British commandos who did the deed. And I didn't know about the two failed glider insertions. Anyway, what I found fascinating was how the Germans apparently failed to adequately protect this vital plant - I remember that the Reader's Digest article mentioned that the commandos were fortunate because some officials in the German army underestimated the value of the plant and didn't think it important enough to garrison heavily.

Posted 19 June 2007 at 08:04 pm

Anyone else remember playing the Medal of Honor level based on this? I enjoyed it most thoroughly, and was highly surprised to discover that, historically, something similar to that mission had actually occurred.

Posted 19 June 2007 at 08:42 pm

Great article Alan! My silly question, is heavy water a poison? In other words, could a drinking water supply be cotaminated with it and cause deaths, or would it simply dissipate into regular H2O?

Posted 19 June 2007 at 08:45 pm

"contaminated" %-)

Posted 19 June 2007 at 10:10 pm

Damn! But wouldn't this make an intersting movie? Oh yes, they already did that back in the 1960's... Oh well our loss at thinking we have something original to look forward to. Great story none the less.

Posted 19 June 2007 at 10:53 pm

really engrossing and interesting story! DI! just one question though: if the saboteurs locked all the doors into the room while they were setting their charges, how did a civilian wander in? or did i read that wrong? (which is entirely possible since it's 1am and i'm dead tired)

Posted 19 June 2007 at 11:06 pm

Excellent! Best story in a while. The more I read the more 'MOVIE'
flashed in my noggin'. And yes very Tom Clancy/James Bond,
they could end it with John Lennon singing Norwegian Wood
during the credits.

Isn't it good...

Dr. Evil
Posted 19 June 2007 at 11:33 pm

awsum article. i was actually collecting 'heavy lead' to make a large nuclear ordinance to threaten the earth and demand a sum MILLION dollars ;-)

Posted 20 June 2007 at 12:16 am

was more considerably more sinister.

I knowI'm nitpicking but I think there is one too many "mores" there.

Depending on the conditions, this could produce a long-lived source of heat and neutrons, or a short-lived source of exploding and death.

Excellent! I like the way you worded that.

DI once again Alan! It is bravery of men like this that make war stories so damn interesting.

Posted 20 June 2007 at 12:43 am

Tink said: "Great article Alan! My silly question, is heavy water a poison? In other words, could a drinking water supply be cotaminated with it and cause deaths, or would it simply dissipate into regular H2O?"

I do remember an episode of Hogans Heroes where Col. Klink was tricked into taking regular drinks of heavy water by Hogan. And he lived long enough to make a guest appearance on the Simpsons.

Posted 20 June 2007 at 02:04 am

This is one of my favourite movies:

Posted 20 June 2007 at 02:31 am

"U-239 atoms tend to eject a couple electrons over the course of a few days, resulting in weapons-grade plutonium-239" That would be a beta decay then, converting a neutron into a proton and emitting an electron (beta radiation) and an anti neutrino particle. (β− decay to be exact).

Posted 20 June 2007 at 04:03 am

It makes me wonder, since I have not heard of any stories like this coming out of Iraq, have we lost the ability to do incredible feats of bravery such as this? When you have past presidents who are proud to "loath the military," shun military service, and spit on those that do serve? Then again, men like htis would never have tolerated being spit on for serving their country and coming from Norway I'll bet these fine gentleman are still regarded as heroes and I'll bet that doesn't change even though the political climate might.

another viewpoint
Posted 20 June 2007 at 06:29 am that you've sufficiently covered various aspects of heavy water, when can we expect the point-counterpoint article on "heavy metal"?

Posted 20 June 2007 at 06:42 am

Tink said: "Great article Alan! My silly question, is heavy water a poison? In other words, could a drinking water supply be cotaminated with it and cause deaths, or would it simply dissipate into regular H2O?"

In humans Heavy Water is classified as mildly toxic. You would need to ingest enough of it to replace around 30% to 50% of your body’s water (depends on your weight and health). Enough Heavy Water in your system can cause sterility, failure of bone marrow, failure of mitosis, etc. from the buildup of deuterium. Otherwise you must drink nothing but Heavy Water for your entire fluid intake. It could take weeks to months before death.

Deuterium buildup in the body creates the same symptoms that one gets from a regiment of chemotherapy.

another viewpoint said: "…Alan….now that you've sufficiently covered various aspects of heavy water, when can we expect the point-counterpoint article on "heavy metal"?"

Now drinking Heavy Metal, or being squashed by it is very toxic. ;)

Posted 20 June 2007 at 08:29 am

"was more considerably more sinister"

wasn't that considerable!

Posted 20 June 2007 at 08:34 am

I'm interested in knowing more about where the heavy water came from.

Was it (merely) filtered out from vast amounts of normal water? How would you go about doing this?

Posted 20 June 2007 at 09:01 am

I remember stories of geeky parties where one of the featured attractions would be ice cubes made out of heavy water, which would sink in a drink. Drinking a lot of it is definitely not recommended, but a small amount almost certainly wouldn't be a problem (especially since it's part of normal water).

It's still being produced. As of a few years ago, Canada was one of the world's leading producers. It's not cheap, but you can buy some of it. United Nuclear has samples of it for sale:

Heavy water is still used as a reactor moderator in some reactor designs. Of course, heavy water itself
is not radioactive (Deuterium is not radioactive. Tritium is, but that's something entirely different), so
it's safe to have around.

Also, if I'm remember correctly, Richard Rhodes covers this in his book "The Making of the Atomic Bomb"
(which, IMHO, is an EXCELLENT book).


Posted 20 June 2007 at 11:16 am

Radiatidon said: "In humans Heavy Water is classified as mildly toxic. ..Deuterium buildup in the body creates the same symptoms that one gets from a regiment of chemotherapy.,,Now drinking Heavy Metal, or being squashed by it is very toxic. ;)"

Thanks darlin'!

That is soo very cool,
Radiatidon, how did you know that?!!About the water I mean, ;).

And Dave, how did you know where to buy the stuff to play with?!

Jeeze , yall are a fasinating bunch of folks!

Posted 20 June 2007 at 11:41 am

fvngvs said: "I'm interested in knowing more about where the heavy water came from.

Was it (merely) filtered out from vast amounts of normal water? How would you go about doing this?"

If I remember correctly, heavy water was filtered from regular water, and there were springs in the area that had unusually high concentrations of the heavy stuff.

Also, I seem recall to recall that the Nazis were trying to use plates of fissionable material rather than spherical mass. They were years behind on nuclear weapons and even with their heavy water, unlikely to have produced anything substantial before the end of the war.

Posted 20 June 2007 at 11:55 am

Great suggestion and thanks to Lauri Pekonen. Great story Alan and as always (usually) Damn Interesting.

Posted 20 June 2007 at 01:22 pm

First time posting! Yay.

Wow, what an amazing story. I'm proud to be... oh wait, Danish. Never mind. Norway still rocks!

Posted 20 June 2007 at 04:38 pm

There's a great account of this story in the book "E=mc2: A Biography of the World's Most Famous Equation" A good read if you're interested :-)

Posted 20 June 2007 at 04:47 pm

"The ferry floundered and sunk"..

should be "foundered".

Posted 20 June 2007 at 05:19 pm

...and "sank", not "sunk". ;-D

Posted 20 June 2007 at 05:36 pm

Amazing story! I never knew these brave men accomplished such an incredible feat. Really sad that some of them were tortured and murdered, but then again that shows what kind of a person Hitler was. The Vemork raiders really should receive the highest of recognitions for their important contributions to the Allies.

Posted 20 June 2007 at 07:42 pm

DI! The role played by the Norwegians in the destruction of Germany's heavy water has always been downplayed. Too many history books try to lay all of the credit on the Brits. These men subsisted on moss and lichen? Let's give these men a lot of credit. It couldn't have been very nutritious and I seriously doubt it was tasty. Could they have made lichen pie?

Posted 20 June 2007 at 09:08 pm

Bewildered said: "There's a great account of this story in the book "E=mc2: A Biography of the World's Most Famous Equation" A good read if you're interested :-)"

I knew I read it somewhere. Good book.

Alan Bellows
Posted 21 June 2007 at 12:13 am

Nikolaus said: ""The ferry floundered and sunk"..

should be "foundered"."

Silverhill said: "…and "sank", not "sunk". ;-D"

Me fail English? That's unpossible!

Posted 21 June 2007 at 02:03 am

i'm actually going to Norway for a month on the 5th..

A Damn Interesting coincidence ey?


Posted 21 June 2007 at 04:40 am

While I don't have the heart to label this article as one of the most interesting on the site, it is certainly one of the most exciting and best written! What a great read! This is why I love DI!

Posted 21 June 2007 at 08:25 am

Tink said: "Thanks darlin'!

That is soo very cool,

Radiatidon, how did you know that?!!About the water I mean, ;).

And Dave, how did you know where to buy the stuff to play with?!

Jeeze , yall are a fasinating bunch of folks!"

Thanks (I think). :-)

Hey, you have to know about where to get all of these nuclear things. I mean, without a suitable moderator, how could I ever hope to build that nuclear fission reactor in my basement? ;-) Now, where did I put those vaseline glass marbles or that red fiestaware (both of which contain Uranium)?

Well, ok, so actually those things contain way too little Uranium to sustain a fission reaction, although Chicago Pile 1 was built using Uranium pellets and graphite[1] blocks:

[1] Ok, ultra pure graphite blocks, since most common graphite has a significant percentage of Boron as a contaminant, which absorbs enough neutrons to prevent a sustained chain reaction.[/1]

And, to wrap this up, the Canadian designed CANDU nuclear reactor uses heavy water as a moderator, and can run on natural (unenriched) Uranium:


Posted 21 June 2007 at 09:09 am

The Manhattan project used graphite as a neutron moderator - if the Germans had realized that they
could substitute this for heavy water they could have gone without the Norwegian plant, but apparently
they never figured this out.

Posted 21 June 2007 at 09:50 am

Great story!

Even if the sabotage had failed, Germany would not have been able to build a bomb by 1945. The Manhattan Project was a HUGE engineering feat beyond Germany's capability during wartime.

Posted 21 June 2007 at 10:26 am

Did you know that the gliders used here, and on D Day were invented by Barbara Cartland, the well-known (and very pink) romantic novelist?

Nicki the Heinous
Posted 21 June 2007 at 10:31 am

Excellent article! DI as usual

Posted 21 June 2007 at 10:33 am

Alan Bellows said: "Me fail English? That's unpossible!"

I love you.

Posted 21 June 2007 at 11:29 am

"a short-lived source of exploding and death" what a great phrase!! Fasinating article!!

Posted 21 June 2007 at 01:07 pm

nona said: "Did you know that the gliders used here, and on D Day were invented by Barbara Cartland, the well-known (and very pink) romantic novelist?"

Your Kidding! No Sh*t!? I love that!
I also recently read/learnt that Dr. Ruth Westingheimer (sp?) was a crack shot; marksman & sniper in Israel when she was in her late teens,early, huh?

& Thanks to you Dave for the cool links and explaination, too.

Forgive me for leaping off topic a bit, but y'all have got to check this out, in the news today, sounds like this came straight from Damned Interesting!,

Fringe Science Yields 'Gay Bombs' and Psychic Teleportation
Pentagon Spends $78 Billion a Year on Weapons and Space Research...

7.5 million to create a "Gay Bomb" Yeah! Make love not war baby, LOL

Posted 21 June 2007 at 02:41 pm

Alan Bellows said: "Me fail English? That's unpossible!"

LMAO : Hookd on foniks warked for me!

Posted 22 June 2007 at 04:58 am

Tink: All we need now are some frickin' sharks with some frickin' lazer beams attached to their heads.

Posted 22 June 2007 at 07:50 am

If only we had a similar effort against the Soviet Union at the same time.

"U-239 atoms tend to eject a couple electrons over the course of a few days, resulting in weapons-grade plutonium-239."

I would change the wording of this, you should say beta decay rather than just losing electrons. It implies that it becomes an ion instead of a different element altogether.

There was also a PBS program (Maybe it was the NOVA one) where they recovered the barrels on the ferry from the bottom of the lake. It was still sealed and had all the water. Not sure what they did with it though.

Alan Bellows
Posted 23 June 2007 at 12:08 am

SparkyTWP said: "I would change the wording of this, you should say beta decay rather than just losing electrons. It implies that it becomes an ion instead of a different element altogether."

Good point... I was attempting to cut down on the atomic jargon, but I don't want to be too ambiguous. I'll go moderately reinforce that phrasing. Thanks for pointing out the weak spot.

Posted 05 July 2007 at 10:37 am

Yes it is a true story. There has been made a reconstruction on film as described above.

Main actor was Kirk Douglas in Heroes of Telemark.
See preview:

Some of these heroes are still living and they are the highest decorated soldiers ever.

Posted 11 September 2007 at 03:37 pm

I enjoyed the article....I was trying to find more information on the whole operation as my great great grandfather apparently had a very important part of the sabotage. There is more to the story...much more behind their attempt. I have a plaque given to my grandfather from the king of Norway thanking him for his part in these operations. My grandfather and supplied them with maps and charts of the area which supposedly allowed them to find and destroy. This was kept secret by him until after his death when the document was found and there was a huge newspaper article written about his part in this action. As a young man he had mapped that whole area and heard about their need for maps and supplied them. Kinda interesting, huh?

Posted 25 September 2007 at 06:47 pm

Nikolaus said: ""The ferry floundered and sunk"..

should be "foundered"."

I hate to be late to the grammar party, but his use of "floundered" was perfectly acceptable.

Also, great site! I got sent here via StumbleUpon and I'm really enjoying catching up on all the stories.

Posted 26 September 2007 at 12:14 pm

"Floundered" is INcorrect, of course.

Posted 25 December 2007 at 03:12 pm

wish they can make this into a movie...

Posted 25 December 2007 at 03:33 pm

nona said: "Did you know that the gliders used here, and on D Day were invented by Barbara Cartland, the well-known (and very pink) romantic novelist?"

i'm just curious, how did this particular glider look like, does it have laser beams and sidewinder missiles? hehehe

Posted 25 December 2007 at 03:36 pm

another Damn Interesting article!!great work!

Posted 15 January 2008 at 11:10 pm

DI article!

But as someone else mentioned, if Hitler had had access to a nuke, he certainly would have dropped it on Moscow rather than London. Contrary to popular mythology in the US and Britain, the war in Europe was fought and won primarily by the Soviet Union, rather than the Western allies. D-day and the liberation of France were a sideshow compared to the epic death-struggle between Germany and Russia. The only reason our invasion was even possible was that the vast majority of the German forces (men, planes, tanks, supplies and fuel) were tied up on the Eastern front in a desperate effort to hold off the Russians. Even so we were barely able to defeat the undermanned and undersupplied remnants left to defend the Western front. Just thought I'd clear that up. : )

Posted 19 January 2008 at 06:37 am

Indeed, they could make a film of this, and the Americans could pretend they were the saboteurs, a bit like their phoney role in the film 'Enigma'.

Posted 19 January 2008 at 06:45 am

Totally agree with Dacoobob by the way, but history is full of tiny pivotal points (and is the sum of its parts), had it not been for the battle of Britain (for example) , Hitler might not have thrown himself into Russia quite so heavily; had he invaded the UK, had we failed in the skies at that point The US could never have joined the war in europe and though the Russians would still doubtless have thrown him back they might have agreed a truce with Britain/US out of the game and allowed him to keep his European empire intact. But I agree that the Soviet force (and their generals Winter and starvation) were the most powerful force in the war (so what's new).

Posted 19 January 2008 at 06:58 am

Great article by the way.

Posted 14 February 2008 at 02:00 am

justjim1 said: "Damn! But wouldn't this make an intersting movie? Oh yes, they already did that back in the 1960's… Oh well our loss at thinking we have something original to look forward to. Great story none the less."

They actually are making a new movie about this ;)

Posted 07 April 2008 at 02:20 pm

"This deuterium oxide (D2O) does exist in water naturally, though its ratio is normally only about one part in 41 million, so it had not been previously observed in significant quantities."

This is several orders of magnitude incorrect. Try a range of 1:5,000 to 1:7,000 for deuterium oxide:terrestrial water.

Posted 07 April 2008 at 03:38 pm

Tink said: "Great article Alan! My silly question, is heavy water a poison? In other words, could a drinking water supply be cotaminated with it and cause deaths, or would it simply dissipate into regular H2O?"

Heavy Water as the sole water intake poses substantial risks to organisms which absorb it. The question is, at what level in our water supply is this D2O safe and of no demonstrable danger.

To put it another way, an older person may have consumed a liter or two of deuterium oxide, lifetime. Does this consumption play any part in the aging process?

It is possible, even perhaps likely, that it is retained by the body preferentially to Light Water. If that is the case then will older people have an increased level in their tissues?

Posted 08 April 2008 at 03:05 pm

Anthropositor said: ""This deuterium oxide (D2O) does exist in water naturally, though its ratio is normally only about one part in 41 million, so it had not been previously observed in significant quantities."

This is several orders of magnitude incorrect. Try a range of 1:5,000 to 1:7,000 for deuterium oxide:terrestrial water."

Is this a test? According to Wikipedia:

Ratio of deuterium atoms (D or 2H) to hydrogen atoms (H) in Earth's oceans - 1:6,400
Ratio of semiheavy water molecules (DHO) to regular water molecules (H2O) - 1:3,200
Ratio of heavy water molecules (D2O) to regular water molecules (H2O) - 1:41,000,000
(Technically, more like 1 in 40,960,000 - the square of 6,400.)

Posted 12 April 2008 at 12:32 am

You have struck on an important point. We are not just talking about H2O and D2O, but DHO as well. And generally. when we are talking about "heavy water" it is not a pure liquid only containing D2O, although it gets close.

My particular area of interest has to do with the cumulative metabolic effects of deuterium as its' concentration to the organism is increased in the water supply, or as it accumulates in the organism over time. For my purposes, the DHO is in the count.

My instinct is that the number for the ratio of D2O to DHO and H2O combined would be on the order of 1:10,000,000+.
But in this ratio, we are ignoring the 3000+ molecules which each contain 1 D atom.

I have seen no data that gives too clear an idea of the difference(s) in the characteristics of D2O and DHO. It is only a guess that the DHO figures are likely to be roughly midpoint between the extremes of D2O and H2O. I personally have not come across any commercial sources for DHO. Only D2O of about 99.8% purity. For damping neutrons or for biological studies, that is sufficient purity to do the job..

Posted 16 April 2008 at 05:05 am

Hello, we have done a great deal of research concerning an influence of heavy water on cell methabolism and cell adaptation to heavy water. Here it is:

Heavy water is water (H2O) in which oxygen is bound to atoms of the hydrogen isotope deuterium (2H). Heavy water is so named because it is significantly more dense (>1.1 g/cm3) than ordinary ("light") water, 1H2O (1 gm/cm3). Heavy water is not radioactive and has the same chemical properties as light water; a person could drink a glass of heavy water without harm. However, heavy water is better than light water at moderating (slowing) neutrons, which makes it useful in some nuclear reactor cores. Its scarcity during World War II, partly assured by bombing raids and daring Allied commando missions to destroy heavy-water production facilities, interfered critically with the German and Japanese nuclear programs.

It is believed the big bang produce the universe that was much denser and hotter than it is now and made almost entirely of two main elements - hydrogen and helium. Deuterium itself was made only at a second stage of the beginning of the universe, namely through the collision of one neutron with one proton at a temperature of about one billion degrees; furthemore the two formed deuterons in turn stuck together into helium nuclei, which contain two protons and two neutrons. It is considered, that during the formation of helium nuclei, almost all the deuterons combined to form helium nuclei, leaving a tiny remant to be detected today so that only one in 10.000 deuterons remained unpaired.

Thus, deuterium serves as a particularly important marker. The quantity of deuterium in contemporary nature is approximately small and measured as no more than 0.015% (from the whole number of hydrogen atoms) and depends strongly on both the uniformity of substance and the total amount of matter formed in course of early evolution. One may suggest, that the very reliable source of producing of deuterium theoretically may to be the numerical explosions of nova stars, but deuterium itself is very readily destroyed in those stars. If it was so, perhaps this was the answer to the question why the quantity of deuterium increased slitely during the global changes of climate for worming conditions.Either way or not, the model of deuterium evolution provides a framework for predicting the biochemical consequences of such new fascinating ideas.

Deuterium (2H), the hydrogen isotope with nuclear mass 2, was discovered by Urey. In the years immediately following this discovery, there developed a keen interest in development of methods for uniform biological enrichment of a cell with 2H, that may be best achived via growing of an organism on medium with high content of heavy water (99% of deuterum), which since yet resulted in a miscellany of rather confusing data (see as an example Katz J., Crespy H. L. 1972).

The main resolute conclusion that can be derived from the most competent and comprehensive of the early studies is that high concentrationsof heavy water are incompatible with life and reproduction and furthemore could even causing even lethal effects on a cell. However, today a many cells could be adapted to heavy water either via employing a special methods of adaptation which of them we shall describe above, or using selected (or/and resistent to heavy water) strains of bacterial and other origin.

What is the nature of this interesting phenomenon of biological adaptation to heavy water and what is the role of life important macromolecules (particularly DNA, individual proteins, and/or enzymes) in this process? It is seems very likely, that during adaptation to heavy water the structure and conformation of [U -2H]labeled macromolecules undergoing some modifications that are more useful for the working in heavy water-conditions. There have to be distingueshed three aspects of biological enrichment with deuterium: chemical, biological and biophysical aspects, all of them are connected in some way with the structure of [U -2H]labeled macromolecules. The presence of deuterium in biological systems certainly could be manifested in more or less degree by changes in the structure and the conformation of macromolecules. It is important what precise position in macromolecule deuterium ocupied and dipending from that the primary and secondary isotopic effects are distingueshied. The most important for the structure of macromolecule the hydrogen (deuterium) bonds form between different parts of the macromolecule and play a major part in determining the structure of macromolecular chains and how these structures interact with the others and also with heavy water environment. Another important weak force is created by the three-dimentional structure of water (heavy water), which tends to force hydrophobic groups of macromolecule together in order to minimize their disruptive effect on the hydrogen (deuterium)-bonded network of water (heavy water ) molecules.

The screw parameters of the proton helix are changed by the presence of deuterium so that ordinary proteins dissolved in heavy water exhibit a more stable helical structure (Tomita K., Rich A., et all., 1962). While heavy water probably exerts a stabilizing effect upon the three-dimentional hydrogen (deuterium)-bonded helix via forming many permanent and easily exchangeable hydrogen (deuterium) bonds in macromolecule in the presence of heavy water (as an example the following types of bonds -COO2H; -O2H; -S2H; -N2H; N2H2 et.), the presence of nonexchangeable deuterium atoms in amino acid side chains could only be synthesized de novo as the species with only covalent bonds -C2H, causes a decrease in protein stability. These opposing effects do not cancel with the case of protein macromolecule, and fully deuteration of a protein often results in the destabilization. As for the deuteration of DNA macromolecule, today there are not reasonable considerations that such negative effect of heavy water on the structure and function is really existiting. Nevertheless, deuterium substitution can thus be expected to modify by changes in the structure and the conformation of both [U- 2H]labeled DNA and protein, not only the reproductionl and division systems of a cell, and cytological or even mutagenical alterations of a cell, but to a greater or lesser degree of an order of a cell.

But not only these functions but also the lipid composition of cell membrane are drastically changed during deuteration. The lipid composition of deuteriated tissue culture cells has been most complitely investigated by a certain scientists (Rothblat et all., 1963, 1964). As it is reported in these articles mammalian cells grown in 30% (v/v) heavy water contain more lipid than do control cells. The increase in the lipids of heavy water grown cells is due primarily to increased amounts of triglycerids and sterol esters. Radioisotope experiments indicate that the differens are due to an enhanced synthesis of lipid. Monkey kidney cells grown in 25% (v/v) heavy water and or irradiated with X-rays likewise showed increases of lipid. The heavy water grown cells contained more squalene, sterol esters, sterols, and neutral fat than did either the control of X-irradiated cells. Phospholipid levels were equal for all groups of cells. Thus the effects of heavy water on lipid synthesis are qualitatively quite similar to those of radiation damade. An interisting observation that deserves further scrutiny relates to the radiation sensitivity of deuterated cells. Usually, cells grown and irradiated in heavy water shown much less sensivity to radiation than ordinary cells suspended in water. Suspension of ordinary cells in heavy water did not have any effect on the reduced sensitivety became apparent.

A serious alteration in cell chemistry must be reflected in the ability of the cells to divide in the presence of heavy water and in the manner of its division. However, a many statements suggesting that heavy water has a specific action on cell division are common since today. Probably it may be true that rapidly proliferating cells are highly sensitive to heavy water , but that deuterium acts only to prevent cell division is unlikely. The rabbit cells grown on medium containing the various concentrations of heavy water shown, that heavy water caused a reduction in cell division rate, and this effect increased as the concentration of heavy water or duration of exposure, or both, were increased (Lavillaureix et all., 1962). With increasing concentration of heavy water the frequency of early metaphases increased, accompanied by proportional decreases in the other phases.

Heavy water blocks mitosis in the prophase and the early metaphase of many cells grown in heavy water . The blockage, however, was overcome if the initial concentration of heavy water was not too high and the exposure time not too long. In experiments with eggs of the fresh water cichlid fish Aequidens portalegrensis, they observed that in 30% heavy water only one-fifth of the eggs hathed and in 50% (v/v) heavy water none did so. Segmentation in fertilized frog eggs developed normally for 24 hours in 40% (v/v) heavy water , after which the embryos died. It was also found by that heavy water disturbed embryogenesis in Drosophila melanogaster eggs (Lavillaureix et all., 1962. Feeding female flies with 20% (v/v) heavy water caused a significant increase in the proportion of nondeveloped eggs, whether males were deuterated or not. The reason for the cessation of mitotic activity from exposure to heavy water is not clear. Certain microorganisms have been adapted to grow on fully deuterated media. However, higher plants and animals resist adaptation to heavy water . Even in microorganisms, however, cell division appears initially to be strongly inhibited upon transfer to highly deuterated media. After the adaptation, however, cellular proliferation proceeds more or less normally in heavy water, but this stage is not reached in higher organisms. No ready explanation in terms of the present understanding of mitosis suggests itself. In Arbacia eggs antimitotic action of heavy water is manifested almost immediately at all stages of the mitotic cycle and during cytokinesis (Gross P. R., et all., 1963, 1964).

A stabilizing action on the nuclear membrane and gel structures, i.e., aster, spindle, and peripheral plasmagel layer of the cytoplasm, can be detected. Prophase and metaphase cells in 80% (v/v) heavy water remain frozen in the initial state for at least 30 minutes. Furrowing capacity probably is not abolished by heavy water. The heavy water -block is released on immersion in heavy water although cells kept in deuterium-rich media for long periods show multipolar and irregular divisions after removal to heavy water , and may subsequently cytolyze. The inhibition of mitosis in the fertilized egg is not the only interesting effect of deuterium. The unfertilized egg also responds. It was described that deuterium parthenogenesis in Arbacia in the following graphic terms: if an unfertilized egg is placed in heavy water, there appear in the cytoplasm, after half an hour, a number of cytasters. The number then increases with time. If, after an hours immersion in heavy water, eggs are transferred to normal sea water, a high proportion (80% of the population) raises a fertilization membrane, which gives evidence that activation has occurred.

Deuterium genetics is, for the most part, like genetics itself, conveniently divisible into dipteran mutation studies, the genetics of microorganisms, and miscellaneous studies of which those of Gross and Harding, and Flaumenhaft et al. are examples. The customary procedure in most of the dipteran and bacterial investigations so far reported has been to administer heavy water to the organism and then to test it for mutation or other chromosomal change. The results obtained by such an investigation have seldom been striking. For example, many researchers found an increase in sex-linked lethals in the sperm of flies that had been exposed to deuterium, either by way of injection into their pupae, or by the inclusion of heavy water in their food. They introduced heavy water into Drosophila melanogaster larvae both by feeding and by injection. The males which matured from these larvae were tested for mutation by CIB method. But the test showed no increase in the mutation rate. It was assumed by these scientists that the deuterium which was used in dilute form entered the DNA molecule.

De Giovanni and Zamenhof have carried out the most comprehensive investigations on the genetic effects of deuterium in bacteria. The results are of considerable interest. For example, they found a several mutants of E. coli, including a so called rough mutant 1/D which is more resistant to heavy water than its parent strain, were isolated from E. coli grown in heavy water media. The spontaneous frequency of occurerence of this mutant was 10-4, and the mutation rate could be increased 300-fold by ultraviolet irradiation. This mutant was derived only from the strain E. coli 15 thymidine, and no similar mutant was observed in other strains of E. coli or B. subtilis. By application of a fluctuation test, the researchers were able to show convincingly that this mutation to increased deuterium resistance occurred spontaneously and not in response to the mutagenic effect of heavy water. Back mutations in some instances do seem to occur at higher rates in heavy water. Reversion from streptomycin dependence to streptomycin sensitivity in E. coli strain Sd/4, or from thymine dependence to thymine independence in strain 1 occurs with higher frequency in heavy water , but heavy water does not cause a discernible increase in mutation in the wild type.

Researchers further found that deuteriated purines and pryrimidines had no effect upon the growth and back mutation rates of specific base-requiring strains. Thymine containing deuterium in two of the four nonexchangeable positions adequately supplied the requirement for thymine with no concominant genetic changes. It would appear therefore that the preponderance of the evidence from these studies with bacteria is in favor of the view that heavy water is not a strong mutagenic agent.

It was reported in a series experiments designed to test the ability of deuterium to produce mutation and nondisjunction. Deuterium like tritium appear to increase nondisjunction, but either agent separately is less effective than the two acting together. Hughes and Hildreth exposed male flies which had been grown on a 20% (v/v) heavy water diet to an irradiation of 1000 r. of X-rays. It was found that there was not significant difference in the frequency of observed mutations between heavy water flies and normal flies subjected to the same radiation.

Tumanyan and Shnol also found no mutagenic effect of heavy water on recessive and dominant lethal marks in D. melanogaster, inbred line Domodedovo 18. Flaumenhaft and Katz grew fully deuteriated E. coli in 99,6% (v/v) heavy water with fully deuteriated substrates, and found that the mutation rate after ultraviolet irradiation was distinctly lower than that of nondeuteriated organisms. The simultaneous presence of both deuterium and protium in nearly equal proportions in the constituent molecule of an organism could conceivably create difficulties for the organism since the rate pattern would be seriously distorted. They further found that cells grown in heavy water and then transferred to heavy water showed an enhanced susceptibility to ultraviolet irradiation. This suggests that organisms containing both hydrogen or deuterium, but it leaves unanswered the question of why serial subculture in water- heavy water media is required for adaptation of many organisms.

Many researchers studied the growth of phage T4 in E. coli cells which were cultivated in media containing various concentrations of heavy water from zero to 95% (v/v). No significant increase in forward mutation in this phage could be observed, but the rate for reverse mutation was increased, and reached a maximum in phage grown in 50% (v/v) heavy water. Although it was reported that a further increase in heavy water concentration up to 90% (v/v) producers little augmentation of the reversion index, the actual data presented by Konrad indicates a decided increase in reverse mutation rate in phage exposed to more than 50% (v/v) heavy water.

There have been carried out a big deal of cytochemical study of fully deuteriated microorganisms grown autotrophically for very long periods in heavy water (Flaumenhaft E., Conrad S. M., and Katz J. J., 1960a, 1960b). The main conclusion that could be made from these studies is that the nucleus of deuterated cells was much larger than that of nondeuterated cells, and it contained greater amounts of DNA. Also present were much greater amounts of rather widely scattered cytoplasmic RNA within the cells. It was found also, that deuterated cells stained much more darkly for proteins, indicating higher concentrations of free basic groups. Both fluorescence and electron microscopy indicated that deuteration results in readily observable morphological changes. For example, the chloroplast structure of deuteriated plants organisms was more primitive in appearance, less well-differentiated, and distinctly less well-organized. The very interesting conclusion was made, then a low or/and high temperature grown organisms implied the morphological consequences of extensive isotopic replacement of hydrogen by deuterium so that in some respects resemble with the effects produced by reduction or/and increase in temperature of growth.

But, paradoxically, many cells of bacterial and algae origin could, nevertheless, well grown on absolute heavy water and, therefore, to stabilize their biological apparatus and the structure of macromolecules for working in the presence of heavy water. The mechanism of this stabilization nor at a level of the structure of [U-2H]labeled macromolecules or at a level of their functional properties is not yet complitely understood. Adaptapion to heavy water is a complex phenomenon resulting both from the changes in structural and the physiological level of a macrosystem. That is why there is every prospect that continued investigation of deuterium isotope effects in living organisms will yield results of both scientific and practical importance, for it is precisely. The studies of the structure and the functioning of biolodical important [U -2H]labeled macromolecules obtained via biological adaptaition to high concentrations of heavy water are most attract an attention of medical scientists as a simple way for creating a fully deuterated forms of DNA and special enzymes could well be working in a certain biotechnological processes required the presence of heavy water. Secondly, if the structure of fully deuterated proteins may be stabilized in heavy water in a view of duarability of deuterated bonds, it would be very interesting to study the thermo-stability of [U -2H]labeled proteins for using them directly in processes going at high temperatures.

It would be very perspective in future to create the thermo-stable proteins simply via deuteration of the macromolecules by growing a cell-producent on heavy water with 99% of deuterium. Third, particular interest have also the studies on the role of primodial deuterium in molecular evolution. The solution of these obscure questions concerning the biological adaptation to heavy water should cast a new light on molecular evolution in a view of the preferable selection of macromolecules with difined deuterated structures.

To carry out the studies with fully deuterated macromolecules one must firstly obtain the appropriate deuterated material with high level of enrichment for isolation of pure DNA and individual proteins to whom the various methods of stable isotope detection further can be applyed. The three-dimentional NMR combined together with the method of X-ray diffraction, infrared (IR)-, laser spectrometry and circular dichroism (CD) is a well proved method for the studies of the structure and the functioning of [U -2H]labeled macromolecules, and for investigations of various aspects of their biophysical behavior. Taking into account the ecological aspect of using [U -2H]labeled compounds, it should be noted in conclusion, that the preferable properties of applying deuterium for biochemical studies are caused mainly by the absence of radioactivity of deuterium that is the most important fact for carrying out the biological incorporation of deuterium into organism.


Through technical advances of biotechnology, many macromolecules, for example a certain individual proteins are successfuly cloned and can be obtained in large quantities by expression in microbial and/or mammalian systems, so that an ever-increasing number of individual [U- 2H]labeled macromolecules from various biological objects are becoming commercially available. It should be noted, however, that the application of various methods for the preparation of [U -2H]labeled macromolecules (chemical or biosynthetical) often results in obtaining the forms of molecules with different number of protons substituted by deuterium, the phenomenon that is known as heterogenious labelling, so that the special methods for the preparation of [U -2H]labeled macromolecules should be applyed to minimaze this process. For example, the proteins containing only deuterium atoms in polypeptide chain of macromolecule can be produced biotechnologically with using the special genetically constructed strains of bacteria carrying the mutations of geens excluding the metabolic exchange between the parterns of unlabeled intermediators during the biosynthesis of [U -2H]labeled macromolecules.

I may briefly indicate three possibilities for deuterium enrichment:

(1) to grow the organism on a minium salt medium with content of heavy water 99% of deuterium;

(2) To grow the organism on a medium supplemented with 99% heavy water and [U -2H]labeled amino acid mixture.

(3) the isotopic exchange of susceptible protons in amino acid residues already incorporated into protein.

Method 1 is very useful for the preparation of [U- 2H]labeled macromolecules if only applyed strains of bacterial or different origin could well be grown on minimal media in the presence of high concentrations of heavy water. Very often in this case the biological adaptation to heavy water is required.

Method 2, while being generally applicable, is limited by the difficulty and expense of preparing fully deuterated amino acid mixtures from algae grown on heavy water. However, recently we proposed to use a fully deuterated biomass of methlotrophic bacterium B. methylicum with protein content about 55% (from dry weight) obtained via multistep adaptaition to 98% (v/v) heavy water and 2% (v/v) [U-2H]MetOH as growth substrates for growing the other bacterial strains to prepare a gram quantities of [U -2H]labeled amino acids, proteins and nucleosites with high levels of enrichment (90.0-97.5% 2H) (Mosin O. V., Karnaukhova E. N., Pshenichnikova A. B.; 1994; Skladnev D. A., Mosin O. V., et all; 1996; Shvets V. I., Yurkevich A. M., Mosin O. V.; 1995).

Method 2 is also necessary when the organism will not grow on a minimal medium as it was in the case with the applying the bacteria requiring the complex composition media for their growth. This approach will also be necessary for the labeling of proteins expressed in systems other than E. coli (e.g. yeast, insect, and mammalian expression systems) which may be important for the proper folding of proteins from higher organisms. Since the protons of interest in proteins are most often carbon bound and thus do not exchange under mild conditions, method 3 is severely limited by stability of proteins under the harsh conditions necessary for (1H-2H) exchange.


Our research has confirmed, that ability to adaptation to heavy water is differed for various species of bacteria and can to be varried even in frames of one taxonomic family (Mosin O. V. et al., 1996a, 1996b). The adaptation to heavy water is determined both by taxonomic specifity of the organism, and peculiarities of the metabolism, as well as by functioning of various ways of accimilation of hydrogen (deuterium) substrates, as well as evolutionary level, which an object occupies.

The less a level of evolutionary development of an organism, the better it therefore adapts itself to heavy water. For example, there are halophilic bacteria that are being the most primitive in the evolutionary plan, and therefore, they practically not requiring to carry out a special adaptation methods to grow on heavy water. On the contrary, bacills (eubacteria) and methylotrophs (gram-negative bacteria) worse adapted to heavy water .

At the same time for all tested cells the growth on heavy water was accompanied by considerable decrease of a level of biosynthesis of appropriated cellular compounds. The data obtained confirm that the adaptation to heavy water is a rather phenotypical phenomenon, as the adapted cells could be returned to a normal growth and biosynthesis in protonated media after lag-phase (Mosin O. V. et al., 1993).

However, when the adaptive process goes continuously during the many generation of cells, the population of cells can use a special genetic mechanisms for the adaptation to heavy water. For example, mutations of geens can be resulted in amino acid replacements in molecules of proteins, which in turn could cause a formation of a new isoenzymes, and in the special cases - even the anomal working enzymes of a newer structure type. The replacements of these compounds can ensure a development of new ways of regulation of enzymic activity, ensuring more adequate reaction to signals, causing a possible changes in speeds and specifity of metabolic processes.

Despite this fact, the basic reactions of metabolism of adapted cells probably do not undergo essential changes in heavy water. At the same time the effect of convertibility of growth on water- heavy water does not theoretically exclude an opportunity that this attribute is stably kept when cells grown on heavy water , but masks when transfer the cells on deuterated medium.

For realization of biological adaptation to heavy water the composition of growth medium plays an important role. In this case it is not excluded, that during the adaptation on the minimal medium, containing heavy water there are formed the forms of bacteria, auxotrophic on a certain growth factors (for example amino acids et) and thereof bacterial growth is inhibited while grown on these media. At the same time the adaptation to heavy water occurs best on complex media, the composition of which coul compensate the requirement in those growth factors.

It is possible to assume, that the macromolecules realize the special mechanisms, which promote a stabilization of their structure in heavy water and the functional reorganization for best working in heavy water. Thus, the distinctions in nuclear mass of hydrogen atom and deuterium can indirectly to be a reason of distinctions in synthesis of deuterated forms of DNA and proteins, which can be resulting in the structural distinctions and, hence, to functional changes of [2H]labeled macromolecules. Hawever, it is not excluded, that during incubation on heavy water the enzymes do not stop the function, but changes stipulating by isotopic replacement due to the primary and secondary isotopic effects as well as by the action of heavy water as solvent (density, viscosity) in comparison with heavy water are resulted in changes of speeds and specifics of metabolic reactions.

In the case with biological adaptation to heavy water one should inspect the following types of adaptive mechanisms:
1. adaptation at a level of macromolecular components of cells: It is possible to allocate mainly two kinds of such adaptation:
(a). Differences of intracellular concentration of macromolecules;
(b). The forming in heavy water the deuterated macromolecules with other conformations, which could be replaced the ordinary protonated macromolecules synthesized by cells in normal conditions.

Theoretically, any protein macromolecule could adopt an almost unlimited number of conformations. Most pilypeptide chains, however, fold into only one particular conformation determined by their amino acid sequence. That is because the side chains of the amino acids associate with one another and with water (heavy water) to form various weak noncovalent bonds. Provided that the appropriate side chains are present at crucial positions in the chain, large forces are developed that make one particular conformation especially stable.
These two strategies of adaptation are distinqueshed accordinly as "quantitative" and "qualitative" strategies;

2. adaptation at a level of microenvironment in wich macromolecules are submerged: the essence of this mechanism is, that the adaptive change of structural and conformational properties of [2H]labeled macromolecules is conditioned both by directional action of heavy water environment on a growth of cells and by its physico-chemical structure (osmotic pressure, viscosity, density, рН, concentration of heavy water).

Heavy water has appeared to stabilize the plasmagel structure of biological microenvironment. The external pressure required to make the cells assume a spherical shape increased 3.6 kg/cm2 for each per cent increase in the presence of heavy water. It thus seems established that deuteration can affect the mechanical properties of cytoplasm, and that this factor must be taken into account in assessing the consequences of isotopic substitution of macromolecules. In model experiments with gelatin structure, it was demonstrated that in heavy water there is a greater protein-protein interaction than in protonated water (Scheraga J. A; 1960).

A progressive increase in the melting temperature of the gel in heavy water is observed accompanied by an increase in the reduced viscosity. That heavy water can have marked effects on the physical properties of proteins has been known for some time. Consequently it is natural to attribute changes in the mechanical properties of cell structures induced by heavy water to protein response. Nevertheless, the effects of deuterium on proteins, while real, must be only a partial explanation of the situation. The interaction of proteins with solvent water is extraordinarily complex, and the exact nature of the protein is crucial in determining the magnitude of changes resulting from the replacement of protonated water by its deuterated analogue.

3. adaptation at a functional level, when the change of an overall performance of macromolecular systems, is not connected with a change of a number of macromolecules being available or with the macromolecules of their types. Adaptation in this case could provide the changes by using the already existing macromolecular systems - according to requirements by this or that metabolic activity.

Secondary effects may still be of importance in biological systems sensitive to kinetic distortions. Deuterium also affects equilibrium constants, particularly the ionization constants of weak acids and bases in composition of macromolecules dissolved in heavy water. Acid strength of macromolecules in heavy water is decreased by factors of 2 to 5, and consequently, the rates of acid-base catalyzed reactions may be greatly different in heavy water as compared to protonated water. Such reactions frequently may be a faster in heavy water than protonated water solution (Covington A. K., Robinson R. A., and Bates R. G., 1966; Glasoe P. K., and Long F. A., 1960).


The effect of isotopic replacement that has particularly attracted the attention of chemists is the kinetic isotope effect (Thomson J. F., 1963). The substitution of deuterium for hydrogen in a chemical bond of macromolecules can markedly affect the rate of scission of this bond, and so exert pronounced effects on the relative rates of chemical reactions going on in heavy water with participation of macromolecules. This change in rate of scission of a bond resulting from the substitution of deuterium for hydrogen is a primary isotopic effect. The direction and magnitude of the isotope effect will depend on the kind of transition state involved in the activated reaction complex, but in general, deuterium depresses reaction rates. The usual terminology of the chemist to describe the primary kinetic effect is in terms of the ratio of the specific rate constants kh/kd. The maximum positive primary kinetic isotopic effect which can be expected at ordinary temperatures in a chemical reaction leading to rupture of bonds involving hydrogen can be readily calculated, and the maximum ratio kh/kd in macromolecules is in the range of 7 to 10 for C-H versus C-2H, N-H versus N-2H, and O-H versus O-2H bonds. However, maximum ratios are seldom observed for a variety of reasons, but values of kh/kd in the range of 2 to 5 are common (Wiberg K. B., 1955). Deuterium located at positions in a macromolecule other than at the reaction locus can also affect the rate of a reaction. Such an effect is a secondary isotope effect and is usually much smaller than a primary isotope effect.

When the macromolecules transfer to deuterated medium not only water due to the reaction of an exchange (protonated water- heavy water) dilutes with deuterium, but also occurs a very fast isotopic (1Н-2Н)-exchange in hydroxylic (-OH), carboxilic (-COOH), sulfurhydrilic (-SH) and nitrogen (-NH; -NH2) groups of all organic compounds including the nucleic acids and proteins. It is known, that in these conditions only С-2Н bond is not exposed to isotopic exchange and thereof only the species of macromolecules with С-2H type of bonds can be synthesized de novo. This is very probably, that the most effects, observed at adaptation to heavy water are connected with the formation in heavy water [U -2H]labeled molecules with conformations having the other structural and dynamic properties, than conformations, formed with participation of hydrogen, and consequently having other activity and biophysical properties. According to the theory of absolute speeds the break of С-H-bonds can occur faster, than С-D-bonds, mobility of an deuterium ion is less, than mobility of protium ion, the constant of ionization heavy water is a little bit less than ionization constant of heavy water. So it would be much easy to obtain energy from heavy water than from ordinary water. Thus, in principle, the structures of [U -2H]labeled macromolecules may to be more friable that those are forming in ordinary heavy water. But, nevertheless, the stability of [U -2H]labeled macromolecules probably depending on what particular bond is labeled with deuterium (covalent bonds -CD that causing the instability or hydrogen bonds causing the stabilization of conformation of macromolecules via forming the three-dimentional netwok of hydrogen(deuterum) bonds in macromolecule) and what precise position of the macromolecule was labeled with deuterium. For example, the very valuable and sensitive for deuterium substitution position in macromolecule is the reactive center (primary isotopic effects). The non-essential positions in macromolecule are those ones that situated far away from the reactive center of macromolecule (secondary isotopic effects). It is possible, that the sensitivity of various macromolecules to substitution on 2Н bears the individual character and depending on the structure of macromolecule itself, and thus, can be varried. From the point of view of physical chemistry, the most sensitive to replacement of protium by deuterium can appear the apparatus of macromolecular biosyntesis and respiration system, those ones, which use high mobility of protons (deuterons) and high speed of break of hydrogen (deuterium) bonds. From that it is posible to assume, that the macromolecules should realize a special mechanisms (both at a level of primary structure and a folding of macromolecules) which could promote the stabilizition of the macromolecular structure in heavy water and somewhat the functional reorganization of their work in heavy water.

A principal feature of the structure of such biologically important compounds as proteins and nucleic acids is the maintenance of their structure by virtue of the participation of many hydrogen bonds in macromolecule. The hydrogen bonds formed by of many deuterium will be different in their energy from those formed by proton. The differences in the nuclear mass of hydrogen and deuterium may possibly cause disturbances in the DNA-synthesis, leading to permanent changes in its structure and consequently in the cells genotype. The multiplication which would occur in macromolecules of even a small difference between a proton and a deuteron bond would certainly have the effect upon its structure.

The sensitivity of enzyme function to structure and the presumed sensitivity of nucleic acids function (genetic and mitotic) to its structure would lead one to expect a noticeable effect on the metabolic pattern and reproductive behavior of the organism. And next, the changes in dissociation constants of DNA and protein ionizable groups when transfer the macromolecule from water to heavy water may perturb the charge state of the DNA and protein. Substitution of 1H for deuterium also affects the stability and geometry of hydrogen bonds in apparently rather complex way and may, through the changes in the hydrogen bond zero-point vibrational energies, alter the conformational dynamics of hydrogen (deuterium)-bonded structures within the DNA and protein in heavy water.


The successful adaptation of organisms to high concentration of heavy water will open a new avenues of investigation with using [U- 2H]labeled macromolecules could be isolated from these organisms. For example, fully deuterated essential macromolecules as proteins and nucleic acids will give promise of important biological, medical and diagnostical uses. Modern physical methods of study the structure of [U- 2H]labeled macromolecules, particularly three-dimentional NMR in a combination with crystallography methods, X-ray diffraction, IR-, and CD- spectroscopy should cast new light on many obscure problems concerning with the biological introduction of deuterium into molecules of DNA and proteins as well as the structure and the function of macromolecules in the presence of heavy water. The variety of these and other aspects of biophysical properties of fully deuterated macromolecules in the presence of heavy water remain to be an interesting task for the future.


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With compliments,
Oleg V. Mosin

Posted 22 April 2008 at 08:39 pm

Bolshoi spaciba Doktor Mosin.

Posted 14 January 2009 at 07:39 pm

OlegMosin - it seems you killed it.

Dick Jamsgard
Posted 21 January 2014 at 10:35 pm

murdock said: "I enjoyed the article....I was trying to find more information on the whole operation as my great great grandfather apparently had a very important part of the sabotage. There is more to the story...much more behind their attempt. I have a plaque given to my grandfather from the king of Norway thanking him for his part in these operations. My grandfather and supplied them with maps and charts of the area which supposedly allowed them to find and destroy. This was kept secret by him until after his death when the document was found and there was a huge newspaper article written about his part in this action. As a young man he had mapped that whole area and heard about their need for maps and supplied them. Kinda interesting, huh?"

I am late in this story . My uncle was involved at the time and he has an award from England ,the cousins do not have the info I need , so I am on a mission to find out if he was one of the Vermook raiders also .in Oregon USA

Posted 12 February 2014 at 03:13 pm

I got to visit the factory in Norway, it was quite possibly one of the coolest experiences in my life. (one of the other ones was visiting Meteor Crater). My favorite part of the story was left out here,

from the nova web page

Just before they lit the fuses, the guard said, "Please, I need my glasses. They are impossible to get in Norway these days." It was a surreal moment and the request stopped the three raiders in their tracks, bewildered by this change to the script, this brief snapshot of civilian anxiety at the critical point of a crucial military operation. There followed a few curious moments as the saboteurs politely rummaged around his desk for his glasses. "Takk" (thank you) said the smiling guard as he put the spectacles on his nose. As he spoke, the four of them heard the sound of footsteps approaching. Was this one of the German guards making his rounds? To their relief, a Norwegian civilian walked into the room and almost fell backwards as he saw what appeared to be three British commandos and his colleague with his hands above his head.

I saw those glasses in the Museum that now exist inside the factory. Just my two cents on an awesome story!

Posted 23 June 2015 at 07:57 am

Great story Alan. It seems like there are conflicting sources of information on the subject. Here's an account by the plant itself, from some of the saboteurs:

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