The Story of How France Built Nuclear Weapons

    Steve Weintz


    And tested them all over the Pacific. 

    Once Europe had trembled under the tramp of French boots; twice Paris had fallen to a foe; three times France had succumbed to invasion. Before the World War II France, like Britain and Germany, led the way in nuclear science, building on the Curie family’s work. Frederic Joliot-Curie set up the first cyclotron or particle accelerator in Europe and with Lew Kowarski succeeded in creating a fission reaction in uranium early in 1939, soon after the discovery of the phenomenon.

    France’s interest in nuclear science was at first a quest for an energy source more than a weapon—an industrial nation needed fuel to power its armaments factories. Joliot-Curie asked the government for money and certain rare materials: uranium ore and “heavy water.” The ore came quietly from a Belgian mining firm with a mine in the Congo, but the heavy water–water in which ordinary hydrogen atoms are replaced by twice-as-heavy deuterium atoms—came from Norway, a country endangered by Nazi Germany.

    Recommended: Air War: Stealth F-22 Raptor vs. F-14 Tomcat (That Iran Still Flies)

    Recommended: A New Report Reveals Why There Won’t Be Any ‘New’ F-22 Raptors

    Recommended: How an ‘Old’ F-15 Might Kill Russia’s New Stealth Fighter

    No sooner had French agents secured the world’s entire supply of heavy water than France fell in May 1940. The uranium went to Morocco and the heavy water to Britain, which is where it was used in crucial experiments that led to the Manhattan Project. Once in Canada, Joliot-Curie’s colleague Bertrand Goldschmidt developed the chemical process for separating plutonium from uranium fuel. Though the Joliot-Curies remained in France they did not collaborate, and aided the Allied ALSOS mission to locate and secure German nuclear-research materials.

    Read full article



    Please enter your comment!
    Please enter your name here