The Vemork power station (above - Photo, Ian Brodie) was the world's largest when it was put into operation in 1911. Below the factory, Norsk Hydro created a hydrogen factory for fertiliser production, where heavy water (deuterium oxide) was a by-product. The hydrogen plant had long been on the radar of the British intelligence services, as the production of heavy water was regarded key to the Germans' work on developing a nuclear bomb.
In 1943, a group of Norwegian soldiers from Linge company, who had been trained in England, carried out the legendary Operation Gunnerside against the Hydro factory. They exploded and destroyed the equipment and the heavy water.
The Gunnerside-group, from the NRK-series "The batlle of heavy water (Kampen om tungtvannet)" (2015), Photo: Ian Brodie
"After the war, the whole factory was demolished. The Norwegian Industrial Workers’ Museum at Vemork now wants to excavate and rehabilitate the heavy water cellar, and has asked NGI for advice. The plan is to recreate the cellar, which will house exhibitions of heavy water and the successful sabotage", says Paul Sverdrup Cappelen, departmental head of Environmental Technology at NGI.
A part of world heritage
Rjukan has UNESCO world heritage status because of its unique industrial history. This was one of the locations where Norsk Hydro was established, based on the Birkeland-Eydes method of fertiliser production.
"Excavating and reopening the cellar is a local job, but it contributes to telling a story of global significance. As part of our consultancy, we have mapped contaminants, implemented risk assessments and prepared action plans. Among other things, we recommend building a safety embankment above the Vemorksjuvet ravine, which will ensure that the project can be safely implemented", explains NGI's project engineer Tarjei Liland.
The excavation and reopening of the heavy water cellar will add to Vemork’s status as a world-class tourist attraction and make sure that the tale of that fateful night in February 1943 will be retold to future generations.
Picture on top, Vemork power station, Rjukan (Photo: Ian Brodie)