It was summer 2013, when Physicist Timothy Koeth found a mysterious package laying in his parking lot. It came with a note that read, “Taken from the reactor that Hitler tried to build. Gift of Ninninger.” To his surprise, it was a cube of uranium from the 190s apparently used for the construction of a nuclear reactor in the failed Nazi scheme.
“I knew at once what this was,” said Koeth, a nuclear memorabilia collector, of the dark cube. But first, to determine whether it was actually from Hitler’s failed nuclear reactor project, he needed to confirm the authenticity of the uranium cube.
Koeth, from College Park’s University of Maryland, thought his cube might be from that cache, but he wanted to confirm the hunch. He and Miriam Hiebert, a graduate student at the University of Maryland, came to a striking conclusion in the process, reported: Contrary to conventional wisdom, a nuclear reactor might have been created by German scientists during the war, but team competition stymied the effort.
Using aircraft cable, the 664 uranium cubes were strung into chains. The distances between the cubes in each chain and the chains themselves were accurately calculated and the whole apparatus was lowered into a pit filled with heavy water in the final design of the reactor. The water would act as a regulator for the nuclear reaction if the chandelier reactor were hung in heavy water. But because of a shortage of uranium for the reactor, the project stalled.
A group of American soldiers and scientists, the Alsos team, joined the front lines in Europe in 1944 to collect information about the German nuclear programme. They found Heisenberg’s laboratory in April 1945, its entrance under a castle.
As the story goes, the 664 cubes of uranium were shipped to unknown American locations. As for the fate of the extra 400 cubes, they went to the black market after the war and lost time to many of their locations.
Koeth plans to loan his cube to a museum where he and his research partner can inspect it while continuing their quest for the rest of the missing uranium cubes.