For decades, the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNL) was home to World War II artifacts – a small cube of solid uranium, measuring about two inches on each side and weighing less than 2.5 kilograms. Laboratory Cubs claim to have inherited nuclear power from the fall of Nazi Germany in the 1940s, but this has never been proven by experiments.
PNL scientists are developing new nuclear forensic techniques that will help them once and for all confirm the origin of this cube and others like it. Those methods could eventually be used to track the trafficking of nuclear materials. PN John John Schuntz and postgraduate student Brittany Robertson presented some of their first findings this week at the American Society of Chemical Society (Competitive Imagination / Fall) meeting.
Timothy Cote, a physicist at the University of Maryland, is one of the collaborators in this ongoing research. After receiving one gift, he spent more than seven years pursuing these unusual Nazi Germany nuclear research programs. Since 2019, he and UMD partner Miriam Herbert have tracked 10 cubes in the United States – one at Smithsonian, another at Harvard University, a handful in private collections – and, of course, a PNL cube.
What makes these cubes unique is their historical significance. As previously reported –
According to the Manhattan Project in the United States, under Adolf Hitler, Nazi scientists feared that German scientists would strike their allies with a nuclear bomb. The Germans had their first two-year start, but according to Côte d’Ivoire, “fierce competition for limited resources, bitter competition and ineffective scientific management” led to significant delays in developing a sustainable nuclear response. The German nuclear scientists were divided into three independent groups based on Berlin (B), Got (G) and Leipzig (L).
Leading the Berlin team, the famous physicist Werner Hessenberg, as the Allies advanced in the winter of 1944, moved the Heissenberg to a cave under a castle in the small town of Heigles – now the site of the Atomicler Museum. It was there that the team built the B-VIII reactor. In Kote, Kote looks like a “terrifying shamroller” because 664 uranium cubes are attached to an airplane and then placed in a heavy-duty graphite tank to prevent exposure to the moon.
As German scientists raced over time, Manhattan Project Lieutenant General Leslie Groves launched a covert mission called “Auds” with the clear objective of collecting information and materials related to German scientific research. When the Union forces finally closed, Heisenberg identified the B-VIII test and removed key documents in the toilet and buried uranium cubes in the field. (The poor physicist Samuel Gowzmit, who was supposed to dig them out.) Hysenberg himself escaped with a bicycle in his bag.
According to Hessenberg himself, German scientists’ last attempt failed because the amount of uranium in the cubes was not enough to trigger a sustainable nuclear response. But Hessenberg believed that “a modest increase was enough to start the process of energy production.” The model described in the 2009 paper shows that the team needs only 50 percent more uranium cubes to design. If so, our world today would be a very different place.
The RES team is said to have brought the cubes from Berlin to the United States for use at the Uranium Processing Plant in Oak Ridge. However, in April 1945, Côte d’Ivoire realized that the United States did not need additional livestock. And there is no official record of all the cubes that have entered the country, so most of them have never been counted. For 400 or more uranium cubes used by the Goth team led by Kurt Diebner.
According to PNL Lauren, their cube was stored at DOE headquarters until 1989. That was when he came to the laboratory as a radical training tool for radicad on human trafficking detection and intervention in radioactive materials.
The PNL cube, like its brothers, is made of solid natural uranium. The cubes are only slightly radioactive and do not pose a health risk. Uranium is so dense that it basically protects itself. Any measured radiation comes from above. However, according to Robertson, the PNNL cube is stored in a double-plexiglass container to prevent radiation exposure during handling and contamination.
PNL scientists were convinced that they had a “Hysenberg cube.” Among other things, the cube has been modified, and it is better to hang it on the cables used in the German reactor’s efforts. But that evidence is brief, according to Robertson and Schwartz. To estimate his estimate, Cuba was highly rated in 2002, but these results were unknown. “This is not usually sensitive to the exact age of the cube,” said Schwartz.
Many years ago, when the PNNL cube was re-packaged, Schwantes and a co-worker shaved small samples from metal. They hoped to prove once and for all that he was one of the Heisenberg cubes, or perhaps the “Debaner Cube.” Robertson’s work – part of her doctoral research – is to study those specimens in conjunction with PNL’s standard nuclear forensic methods using its own modified analysis techniques.
For example, radioronometry is a popular method for geologists. Uranium decomposition, a radioactive isotope toreium-2330, and proteatium, is commonly used to determine the lifespan of uranium-rich materials. Robertson’s improved approach included the separation of thorium and protactinium simultaneously, assuming that the relative accumulation of materials would be an indication of the time at which the cube was formed. In addition, the analysis of rare earth minerals can help PNL scientists determine where uranium was first mined.
The first discoveries so far have confirmed that one of the three cubes being tested by PNL is natural uranium. There are also initial results by analyzing the coatings that the Germans put on the cubes to control Robertson oxide. Cyande-based coatings were used by the Berlin team, and Debner Gout’s team used styrene-based coatings. If one can accurately measure the signatures, the team will be able to say that the cube was from Berlin or the area.
“As far as we know, no one else has done this measurement,” Robertson said. And I have to tell you the truth, I thought this was a long shot. I don’t think an organism sits next to a lot of uranium iron that will last for decades and still be undetectable.
That resulted in a long shot. Côte d’Ivoire was one of the first to be tested in Cote d’Ivoire. However, Debenner sent some of the team’s cubes to Hessenberg in Berlin as the latter sought more fuel for the reactor. So the Koeth cube may have been used by both groups.