Bartering nuclear materials

Nuclear Power HistoryFrom 1948 to 1951, the small nation of Norway leveraged its heavy water factory’s precious output (it’s one of the best moderators of nuclear fission, this “moderation” being essential for controllable nuclear power). It played the British and French off against each other (U.S.A. refused to offer any assistance) in order to build its first research reactor. In May 1951, John Cockcroft in England showed in this memo just how intricate the horse trading could become (this is too detailed for my book):

We have now completed the arrangements for supplying three metric tonnes of uranium metal rods for the Norwegian pile in return for an equivalent quantity of uranium oxide from Holland, with an appropriate allowance for losses. Dr. Randers, of the Norwegian Atomic Energy project, has asked whether we would be prepared to supply an additional quantity of uranium metal rods in return for their value in heavy water. He would be prepared to recommend an exchange rate of one ton of heavy water against three tons of uranium metal… Harwell have a long term interest in the application of heavy water as a moderator for future piles… The Norwegian proposal would provide us with the necessary material at least three years before we could obtain it in any other way.


Cockcroft, John. 1951. Relations with Norway. AB 41/586, National Archives, Kew, United Kingdom.