More than one ton of Nazi uranium is still missing.

Originally published at: More than one ton of Nazi uranium is still missing. | Boing Boing


It’s always in the last place you look.


Wow. TIL.

Is there information about what the original isotope composition actually was? Did the Nazis work out the centrifuge trick for refining fissile material?


Well obviously, since the velocity of the cubes is known (presumed zero since 1945), we can never know their position


Nuclear technology isn’t witchcraft

According to Wikipedia, Nazis never had plans for anything better than “electromagnetic separation”, meaning a cyclotron/mass spectrometer sort of approach, and they never even did that at scale, so these would just be cubes of natural uranium.


From Ars Technica “The PNNL cube, like its brethren, is made of solid natural uranium metal”.

The threat of a nazi bomb was never large. Even if they had figured out the theory they didn’t have the resources to launch a Manhattan scale project, and with allied bombers having almost free access to German airspace it would have been even harder for them to keep such a project going.


I don’t know the answer for certain, but probably yes. The science was well ahead of the engineering problems, as is usually the case. However, it’s fairly irrelevant.

The Nazis didn’t have the industrial base by that point in the war to enrich uranium into fissile material in the quantities needed. That’s a huge undertaking. It took 0.4% of the entire US GDP to produce enough for the two bombs they dropped. That’s the same as the entire Apollo program. The US economy was a whole lot larger and had not been bombed into oblivion for four years so a 0.4% investment is an order of magnitude bigger than Germany could have absorbed. The Nazis could barely feed themselves at that point, never mind devote modern-equivalent-billions to enriching uranium. The US built entire power stations and economic regions just for this task. It’s the primary challenge of building nuclear bombs. Modern warfare is a production problem, not a technological one. The Allies won because we out-produced the Axis. Liberty Ships were literally built faster than the Nazis could sink them. That’s still easier than large scale uranium enrichment.

It’s often stated for dramatic effect how close the Nazis got to the bomb, but the truth is they never could have built it unless they had already won the war. Their manufacturing base was totally insufficient for the magnitude of that task.


Determining the provenance of nuclear materials is fascinating science. They can trace pretty much any fissile material back to its source, meaning any conspirators involved in stealing or moving it would eventually be revealed. You’d have to work really hard to launder the origins of a nuclear weapon.

But I think the fact that it’s still missing today is a teeny bit more important than figuring out exactly which Nazi stirred the pot it was cooked in 80 years ago.


Not to mention the massive brain drain they inflicted on themselves by being genocidal maniacs when so many of the brightest minds in the field were people of Jewish heritage who had to flee their homelands for their very lives. Lise Meitner. Otto Frisch. Enrico Fermi (his wife was Jewish). Leo Szilard. Probably more, but those are the people who spring to mind.


Its under my couch. My cats play with everything.


Well, of course it is, because then you stop looking!

I’ll be here all week, folks.


Well, it’s hard to keep looking when you’re suffering from acute radiation poisoning.


Centrifuges are actually less effective than the efforts at Oak Ridge with gaseous diffusion. But are cheaper to produce and implement. The Nazis never had the industrial base to produce quantities of fissile material


I feel like if it was still around, it would have been squirreled away/used up by Russia, Germany, France, Britain, or anyone else with a nuclear energy/bomb program. It could be missing in the sense that those who found and used it never told any one.

Though the lab was near Switzerland, and they hid a lot of things there, and Switzerland is dotted with forgotten bunkers.


Nope. Not under the couch. Maybe under the fridge?


By chance I happened to read up on the Nazi nuclear program recently, via a deep wormhole open by an askhistorians reddit thing.

Apparently not so much. They had the base theory figured out. But didn’t have a fully functional reactor to use for enrichment. Didn’t really have any practical angle on the process or whether it would be better than other options, didn’t really have a ton of plans for enrichment.

Apparently we bundled all their nuclear scientists into a single heavily bugged cabin in the UK after the war. Their conversations were recorded after they were informed about the bombs dropped on Japan. And they didn’t believe it. Heisenberg assumed the Americans could have used a photochemical process for enrichment, apparently referencing theory he saw as more likely. The Manhattan Project had poked it with a stick and discarded the process because it didn’t work.

Thing is they never had a project for a bomb. Heisenberg and the others considered it to be not possible at the current moment, and more over not useful. So it wasn’t something they were really pursuing. The Nazi program was entirely a small scale project focused on research reactors, it’s not clear to me they even expected to get power plants out of it at the end.

Then on top of that what everyone else is saying about not having the capacity to produce fuel at scale. Apparently they didn’t even have much access to uranium ore to work with for the scale of work they were doing.


IIRC Canada alone built more military trucks during the war than Nazi Germany did, even including manufacturers in occupied Europe.


And the UK produced more Spitfires during the Battle of Britain, compared to Axis Messerschmitts.

The trick to winning ww2 wasn’t to make the best you could, it was to mass produce ships, planes and trucks that were good enough.