Site of the plant in 2003

Vemork is the name of a hydroelectric power plant outside Rjukan in Tinn, Norway. The plant was built by Norsk Hydro and opened in 1911, its main purpose being to fix nitrogen for the production of fertilizer. Vemork was later the site of the first plant in the world to mass-produce heavy water developing from the hydrogen production then used for the Haber process. During World War II, Vemork was the target of Norwegian heavy water sabotage operations. The heavy water plant was closed in 1971, and in 1988 the power station became the Norwegian Industrial Workers Museum.


In 1906, the then newly founded Norsk hydro-elektrisk Kvælstofaktieselskab started construction of what was to be the world's largest hydroelectric power plant. The 60-MW Vemork power station at the Rjukan waterfall was the world’s largest power plant when it opened in 1911, after six years of construction. The project was so expensive that the works had to be financed by overseas sources. The plant became the corporate precursor to Norsk Hydro. Ten 6-MW T/G sets were supplied by Voith and AEG (units 1-5) and Escher Wyss and Oerlikon (units 6-10).

In 1911, construction was complete. The plant, itself, was built to power a factory producing artificial fertilizer by a new method invented by Kristian Birkeland. Later, Norsk Hydro developed and realized another project—the production of heavy water (deuterium) by means of electrolysis. The company built a unit for producing high concentrations of heavy water at the Vemork plant at Rjukan, although for what purpose was not stated. Production started in December 1934.

Heavy water sabotage

The plant in 1935. The heavy water was produced in the front building (the Hydrogen Production Plant).

In 1940, the French Government purchased the entire stock, then available, of heavy water from Norway. The Germans had also offered to purchase it, but the Norwegian Government was told of its possible military use and gave it to a French agent, who smuggled it to France via England. That supply eventually went back to England. (see Tube Alloys#The Paris Group)

During the German occupation of Norway in World War II, the heavy-water production plant was sabotaged by the SOE in order to prevent the Germans from making an atomic bomb. However, it was later discovered that the Germans were not as close to making an atomic bomb as had been initially feared.

The production of heavy water was judged to be a serious enough threat that at least five separate attacks were launched during World War II.[1]

Today, the original power plant is an industrial museum. Its exhibitions cover both the heavy-water sabotage operations and the early Norwegian labor movement.

Other media

A Norwegian movie about the sabotage operation against the heavy water power plant was made in 1948, starring several of the original saboteurs, and titled "Kampen om tungtvannet" (Norway), "La Bataille de l'eau lourde" (France) and "Operation Swallow: The Battle for Heavy Water" (USA).[2] Later, in 1965, director Anthony Mann made a rather less accurate film version of the story entitled The Heroes of Telemark, starring Kirk Douglas and Richard Harris.

In 2003, British survival expert Ray Mears made a BBC documentary series and book called The Real Heroes of Telemark[3] giving a more realistic view of the difficulties encountered in the mission to sabotage the heavy-water power plant.

In 1975, a non-fiction book, authored by Thomas Gallagher and published by Bantam, called Assault in Norway was produced.[4] The book's cover states that the book is "the true story of the secret mission that blasted Hitler's dream of an atomic bomb."

The power-metal band Sabaton recorded a song about the Vemork sabotage on their album Coat of Arms.

In May 2016, a book by Neal Bascomb, "The Winter Fortress: The Epic Mission to Sabotage Hitler's Atomic Bomb," was published. [5]


  1. Vemork Heavy Water Plant - 1942-44
  2. Kampen om tungtvannet (1948) at the Internet Movie Database
  3. The Real Heroes of Telemark at the Internet Movie Database
  4. Gallagher, Thomas Michael (1975). Assault in Norway: Sabotaging the Nazi nuclear bomb (1st Hardcover ed.). Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. ISBN 0151095825., Paperback – 2010, ISBN 1599219123
  5. The Winter Fortress: The Epic Mission to Sabotage Hitler's Atomic Bomb. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 2016.

External links

Coordinates: 59°52′16″N 8°29′29″E / 59.87111°N 8.49139°E / 59.87111; 8.49139

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