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On wild roads?

Norsk Hydro's heavy water production was completed in 1988. Nevertheless, Norwegian exports of the product that can be used to make nuclear weapons continue.


[heavy water] The Norwegian public lives in the belief that heavy water exports from Norway ended with the closure of Norsk Hydro's heavy water production at Rjukan in 1988.

However, Ny Tid may reveal that Norway has continued to export heavy water until at least 2004. In the period 1988 to 2004, Norwegian heavy water with a total value of almost NOK 70 million has been shipped out of the country.

International trade in heavy water is subject to strict scrutiny because it can be part of the production of nuclear weapons. The scandal was therefore great when Norwegian heavy water was sold under great secrecy to Israel in the 1960s, which helped Israel to procure nuclear weapons.

But the question of heavy water from Norway since 1988 has gone astray, will be difficult to answer. The Directorate of Customs and Excise has rejected Ny Tid's application for access to which players in Norway export this strategically important product.

The Directorate also refuses to state the quantities and to which customers in which countries the heavy water has been delivered, with the exception of the figures for two years, 2001 and 2004.

What we do know, however, is that the sums in Statistics Norway's statistics represent such large amounts of heavy water that the recipient must have been nuclear power plants for most years.

Lack of Norwegian openness about heavy water from past sins is now being addressed by the Arab League in mid-September. In a letter to Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre, the League's Secretary General, Amre Moussa, demands that Norway publish all information related to the scandal surrounding the Norwegian heavy water contribution to Israel's nuclear weapons program in the 1960s.

- We have not felt confident that Norway has told everything, says Alaa Roushydy, official spokeswoman for the Arab League, to Ny Tid.

Extensive exports

- We produced between 500 and 600 tonnes of heavy water here from 1934 until production stopped in 1988, says former laboratory manager Per Pynten.

We are in the basement of the old laboratory of Norsk Hydro in Rjukan. There is much history in the old buildings on the south side of the valley along the steep mountain side. Further up the valley lies Vemork, where the famous sabotage campaign against the heavy water plant during World War II stuck sticks in the wheels of the Germans' efforts to make nuclear bombs.

Still some of the old equipment is in the basement of the laboratory; heavy water tanks of various sizes, a large weight, some centrifuges, hoses and tubes, test tubes and clutter and fast.

- The Ministry of Foreign Affairs approved all exports of heavy water from here. Exports went only to countries approved by the IAEA, the International Atomic Energy Agency. These were countries such as the USA, Great Britain, Germany, Canada, Sweden and Denmark. But during my time, the largest parties went to Japan, says Pynten.

The decorator should know what he is talking about. In 1962, the now retired chemist was hired at Norsk Hydro's main laboratory in Rjukan, and after a few years he became laboratory manager. In 1971, heavy water production was moved from Vemork to Såheim, and the heavy water laboratory was moved to the main laboratory at Rjukan. From now on, Pynten was also given responsibility for quality, storage and shipping of heavy water.

- From 1985 we produced little heavy water here in Rjukan. The very last batch was produced in December 1988, says Pynten.

Inadequate statistics

But despite the fact that 18 years have passed since heavy water was produced at Rjukan, it turns out that heavy water is still being shipped out of the country.

This was revealed when Ny Tid went to Statistics Norway (SSB) to do a check. First, we tried to enter the item number for deuterium oxide (heavy water) in Statistics Norway's statistics bank, and searched for an overview of exports. The answer was that there were no exports to any countries.

However, it should prove to be wrong.

Because when Ny Tid asked one of the employees in Statistics Norway to make a separate "run" of the statistical material on heavy water, statistics appeared which show that Norway in the period 1988 to 2004 has exported heavy water worth almost 70 million kroner (see table). In some years, the value of exports has been large, for example as much as NOK 51 million in 1989 and eight million in 2001. In other years, exports have been smaller, or non-existent.

In the statistics, the information in the columns for quantity, sender and recipient is deleted. This means that it is not possible to determine how much and to which actors and countries the heavy water has gone. It is also not possible to determine who in Norway is exporting the heavy water, nor whether the export from Norway is about heavy water Norway first imported from other countries, or whether Norway has had heavy water in stock from the old days that are now exported.

- This has nothing to do with politics, says CEO Øystein Olsen in Statistics Norway when Ny Tid calls and asks why the agency does not want to distribute the export statistics for heavy water.

- In cases where the collection of statistics takes place from a small number of players, our general policy is that we put dots in the statistics so as not to publish detailed company information, Olsen explains.

At Kristin Halvorsen's table

Based on Statistics Norway's secrecy, Ny Tid applied in June to the Directorate of Customs and Excise for access to the documentation behind the export.

But the Directorate, which is subject to the Ministry of Finance, was only willing to release information related to the years 2001 and 2004. It shows that just over four tons of heavy water was exported to Denmark in 2001 for processing and later re-import to Norway. In 2004, on the other hand, Norway exported 150 kilos to Canada as "ordinary exports". In other words, this heavy water was not reintroduced to Norway.

The customs service's argument for not releasing more information is based on the fact that it would be too much work to find the rest of the material, and that they do not want to prioritize this. Ny Tid has complained to the Ministry of Finance.

Heavy water is covered by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs export control. A dive in the Ministry's postal journal shows a number of documents dealing with both import and export of heavy water to and from Norway.

But here too, the information is far in. Almost all documents are except the public.

The Arab League against Norway

Secretary-General Amre Moussa of the Arab League has written a letter to Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre asking Norway to clarify once and for all what role the country played in the construction of the disputed Israeli nuclear weapons program in the 1960s.

The letter, dated May 28 this year, makes it clear that when the Arab foreign ministers gather in Cairo in mid-September, nuclear security and disarmament in the region will be on the agenda.

- It is true that we have questioned Norway's role, says Roushydy, in the Arab League.

The Arab League is particularly concerned with the documentation in previous NRK Brennpunkt programs, and by a BBC program this winter about, among other things, Norway's role in the Israel scandal.

- The repeated references to Norway's role in the letters that were published through the BBC's 'Newsnight' on March 9 this year, have raised serious concerns in relation to what [the country's] real role is, Moussa writes to Støre.

Out and in of Norway

The authorities so far do not want to publish details about the export of heavy water from Norway since 1988, but it is possible to find possible explanations for parts of the export.

For some of the years it can be traced that the senders were probably Norsk Hydro (today Yara) and the Institute of Energy Technology (IFE).

- The high numbers in the statistics from 1989 may come from Rjukan. We imported a large amount of heavy water from Cern, a research institution in Switzerland, to upgrade the heavy water for them. It happened in Rjukan, explains Arne Cartridge, information director at Yara.

Yara, which was spun off from Norsk Hydro in 2004, still has a plant in Rjukan, where the company produces deuterium gas – heavy water in gaseous form. For this purpose, Yara imports heavy water from Canada, among other places.

The information from Cartridge corresponds to the import and export figures from 1989: First, heavy water from Switzerland worth around NOK 50 million was imported to Norway, before heavy water for a similar value was exported back to Switzerland.

As Yara imports heavy water, the question is also whether the company may have re-exported heavy water.

- No, I can not imagine that. We import heavy water, but only sell deuterium gas, says information director Arne Cartidge.

Atle Valseth, who is responsible for safety at the Institute of Energy Technology's (IFE) experimental reactor in Halden, explains that they also occasionally exported heavy water to Denmark for upgrading, and then imported it back to Norway and re-used it.

- I find traces in my archive that we sent heavy water for upgrading in Denmark in the years 1998 to 2001, says Valseth.

Valseth can document the quantities that were carried out in some years, but Statistics Norway only shows krone values, which makes it impossible to confirm the overall picture.

Difference in need

Back at Rjukan, Per Pynten explains that there was a big difference in the needs of the customers when he worked on heavy water production in Norsk Hydro.

- 95 per cent of the customers were universities and research bodies, five per cent the nuclear power industry. But in terms of quantity, it was the opposite: 90 percent of the heavy water went to the nuclear power industry, the rest to research, says the former lab manager, and shows a small container intended for transporting small amounts of heavy water.

- The research uses very small amounts of heavy water, from a few grams to maybe a few kilos. When it comes to hundreds of kilos or tons, then it goes to the nuclear power plants, says Pynten, and points to some old metal barrels.

These, he explains, were used to carry larger quantities of heavy water. From the inscription we can read that each barrel contained about 220 kilos of heavy water.

Not all the barrels in the basement are of old date. Some are newer, and the inscription documents that Norsk Hydro has imported heavy water from Canada in recent years at Rjukan.

Per Pynten does not want to talk about how heavy water traffic is going on now. It is not his job either, as he has long since retired. n

Israel scandal

[export] The backdrop for the Arab League's request to the Norwegian Foreign Ministry is first and foremost the disputed sale of 20 tonnes of heavy water to Israel in 1960, and another one in 1970. Technical expertise and extensive, advanced laboratory equipment were also sold to Israel in the construction of the Dimona nuclear plant.

The serious dimensions of the case became clear when the Israeli nuclear scientist Mordechai Vanunu in 1986 published evidence that the Dimona plant using the Norwegian heavy water had developed nuclear weapons. Vanunu was kidnapped by Mossad security service and jailed for 18 years.

Heavy water sales to Israel became very politically inflicted throughout the 1980s, following several media revelations.

Alternating Norwegian governments faced both political criticism at home and not least from Arab diplomats. Finally, Norway asked to buy the heavy water back again. The action was most symbolic, because in the meantime, Israel had built up its own capacity to produce heavy water.

Nevertheless, Norway bought back some heavy water from Israel in 1990, more specifically 10,5 tonnes or half of what was originally sold.

The agreement was negotiated by a foreign ministry official who would later become foreign minister. Today, Knut Wollebæk is Norway's ambassador to Washington.

The Dimona heavy water was stored at the Department of Energy Technology at Kjeller. The state's heavy water was earmarked for IFE's two nuclear reactors, at Kjeller and Halden, respectively.

A remnant of this heavy water is still in use at IFE, and is currently stored at the Halden reactor (see Ny Tid 7 July 2006).

Scientists demand transparency

[export control] Researchers and peace activists Ny Tid has been in contact with are very surprised that Norway has exported heavy water even after the factory at Rjukan was closed down in 1988.

They ask Finance Minister Kristin Halvorsen for full transparency on the matter.

- The Norwegian authorities must publish this information. Norway must take the lead with a minimum of openness, says senior researcher Morten Bremer Mærli at the Norwegian Institute of Foreign Policy (Nupi).

- In these days of terrorist threat, all information about material that can be used to produce nuclear weapons should be made public, agrees researcher Nicholas Marsh at the Peace Research Institute in Oslo (Prio).

He also calls for transparency about end-user statements. According to Norwegian law, recipients of strategic goods from Norway must sign a declaration showing where the goods will eventually be used. This should prevent, for example, heavy water from Norway from being diverted through sales to a third party.

- An important part of the control of whether heavy water has gone astray is that the public knows to which countries the heavy water has gone, and what the end-user declaration says, Marsh believes.

The leader of the Norwegian Peace Team thinks it is very questionable that Norwegian exports are not mentioned in the parliamentary reports on arms exports.

- These are strategic goods that the elected representatives should have access to. We will address this issue, says Alexander Harang.

Just before Ny Tid went to press, the Ministry of Finance announced that partial access would be granted for the years 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2000. The buyer and seller of Norwegian heavy water in these years are still kept secret, as well as all figures from before 1996.

By Harald Eraker, Tarjei Leer-Salvesen (text) and Trond Sørås (photo)

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