What happened to the uranium cubes of World War II of the failed effort to build a nuclear reactor in Nazi Germany?
An associate professor at the University of Maryland, Timothy Koeth, received one of the uranium cubes from the failed effort of World War II nuclear reactors in Nazi Germany.
The uranium cube
Uranium is weakly radioactive, and this cube measures approximately 2 inches on each side. It came with a note that read: "Extracted from Germany, from the nuclear reactor that Hitler tried to build. Gift of Ninninger.
Miriam Hiebert, a doctoral student working with him on this project, commented, "It's surprisingly heavy because of its size, and it's always fun to watch people react when they first get it."
The failed nuclear reactor
Why did the nuclear reactor effort fail?
According to Hiebert, "if the Germans had pooled their resources, instead of keeping them divided between separate rival experiences, they could have built a functioning nuclear reactor. This highlights perhaps the biggest difference between German and American nuclear research programs. The German program was divided and competitive; while under the leadership of General Leslie Groves, the American Manhattan Project was centralized and collaborative. "
Koeth added: "It was estimated that the reactor experiment in Haigerloch would have required about 50% more uranium to run. Even if the additional 400 cubes had been taken to Haigerloch for use in the reactor experiment, the German scientists would still need more water to make the reactor work. Although it was the cradle of nuclear physics and having almost two years of advantage over American efforts, there was no imminent threat of a nuclear Germany until the end of the war. "
The future of research
Hiebert concluded: "We hope to talk to as many people as possible who have had contact with these cubes. As much as we have learned about our cube and others like him, we still do not have an answer about exactly how it ended up in Maryland, 70 years after being captured by Allied forces in southern Germany. "