As far back as 1934, the Norwegian company Norsk Hydro built a plant producing heavy water as a by-product of fertiliser production in its Vemork power plant. In 1938 the possibility of using heavy water as a moderator in the process of producing Plutonium from which a nuclear bomb could be built was identified. In 1940, after the outbreak of the war and when it became obvious that Norway may fall to the Germans, the French Intelligence sent agents that convinced the management of the facility to transfer the stock of heavy water they already had to France. After the fall of Norway the Germans took over the production process, and the possibility that they will be able to use the heavy water they were producing for the making of a nuclear bomb was keeping British Intelligence operatives awake at night.
The first operation instigated by the British to destroy the heavy water plant in Vemork failed miserably. Towards the end of 1942 a small advance party of Norwegian commandos was parachuted into Norway. A month later the main force of some 30 British military engineers went out in two gliders towed by Halifax bombers. They were to join the advance party, attack the facility and destroy it. Weather conditions were bad, one of the bombers crashed on route to the target and so did the glider it was towing. The other bomber could not identify its target and lost the glider it was towing on its way back. Those British men who were not killed in the crash of their gliders were captured by the Nazis, interrogated, tortured and executed by the Gestapo. The Germans, who were now alerted to British intentions and to the identity of the target, increased security around the plant adding mines and searchlights.
Early in 1943 the British parachuted an additional small force of Norwegian commandos who joined the advance party of the first operation. This combined force managed to enter the power plant using detailed plans obtained from a local co-operator, blow the electrolysis units producing the heavy water and get away safely. More importantly – they also managed to destroy the entire stock of heavy water the Germans produced since the occupation, some 500 kg.
Even this successful raid did not cause irreparable damage and within a few months the Germans renewed production of heavy water. Towards the end of 1943 the Allies therefore used the heaviest weapon they had at their disposal then – the heavy B-17 Flying Fortress bombers of the American Eighth Air Force. Although only a small percentage of the dropped bombs hit their target, the massive destruction caused convinced the Germans to abandon the plant and to move whatever equipment and stock they managed to salvage to Germany. Here again the Norwegians went into action when resistance fighters blew up and sunk the ferry carrying the cargo of heavy water to Germany as it was crossing a Norwegian lake.
This morning, another Iranian nuclear scientist was eliminated, joining at least three of his colleagues who took an ‘early retirement’ during the last two years. These hits, together with the explosions that recently rocked industrial plants and missile development sites and the computer viruses that crippled Iranian uranium enrichment plants, do sabotage and slow down the Iranian nuclear bomb development effort, but they will not halt it. Eventually, following all the daring operations on the ground, there will be no option but to send in American and perhaps Israeli bombers that will drop heavy bunker busting bombs and destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities for many years to come.