Film shows how Israel got heavy water from Norway

Norweigans suspected the real purpose behind the 1959 purchase was to start nuclear arms program.

dimona reactor 298.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
dimona reactor 298.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
A recently-aired Norwegian television documentary sheds new knowledge on Israel's purchase of heavy water from Norway in the late 1950s. Documents declassified by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs reveal that the Norwegians suspected that the real purpose behind the purchase of 20 tons of heavy water in 1959 was to start a nuclear arms program. The documents, presented in a Norwegian Broadcasting Cooperation (NRK) documentary, were obtained by The Jerusalem Post. A document written by the state secretary to the foreign minister, Hans Engen, asked why Israel was willing to pay twice as much for Norwegian instead of American heavy water. To answer the riddle Engen referred to information given by the Swedish and Canadian authorities in which he stated that Israel "turned to Sweden and Canada in 195… and with a request to develop nuclear arms together with France and Israel - independent of the United States." The document concluded that Israel wanted to avoid a purchase from the United States due to the strict American inspection policy, and that if Israel's aim had been merely civilian it made no sense not to buy the heavy water form the Americans. At the time of the sale in 1959 the Norwegian authorities got the right to inspection. The right was only executed once, in 1961, during a private visit in Israel by the former Norwegian defense minister Jens Christian Hauge. The inspection was made two years before the Dimona reactor was finished, and consisted of two samples of heavy water. A leading expert on Israel's nuclear history, and author of "Israel and the Bomb," Avner Cohen of Maryland University, said on the documentary that the documents that were just released was the first official documents "to confirm that such requests [of buying heavy water] had indeed taken place." Cohen also stated that the documents "are vague… and there are still a lot of things that we do not know." The original plan was for the Norwegian company Norsk Hydro, a major producer of heavy water, to export the 20 tons to Israel. The company was willing to start the production, but backed out later, due to fears of losing valuable costumers in the Arab world for its main export at the time, nitrogen fertilizer. The deal, the documents show, was executed by the Norwegian company Noratom. Noratom bought back 20 tons of heavy water that had been sold to Britain, and sold it to Israel. The sale of heavy water to Israel has been known for a number of years. In 1991 Norway bought back 10.5 tons of heavy water from Israel, which ended Oslo's right to inspection. The official reason as to why only 10.5 tons were returned was that the rest had been used up over the years. That this can happen was at the time confirmed by a Norwegian nuclear scientist. The documentary also dealt with the Norwegian refusal to grant Israel's nuclear spy Mordechai Vanunu political asylum in Norway, due to the fact that the request was delivered to the Norwegian Embassy in Tel Aviv and not handed in to the proper channels in Norway.