Let’s start the New Year by debunking an outrageous claim!

From The Daily Mail:

Found, Hitler’s secret nuke plant: Vast underground complex where the Nazis worked on developing nuclear weapons is discovered in Austria

That’s an impressive headline, and if you scroll through the article, you will see many impressive photos, none of which are from this “vast underground complex.” So one may ask how we know that such a thing is there.

Andreas Sulzer, who is making a documentary on Hitler’s atom bomb program, tells us so. The story is that “heightened levels of radiation” showed them where to dig. Austrian authorities have stopped the digging because Sulzer’s group did not have permits to dig in a historical area.

The area is contiguous with the B8 Bergkristall underground factory, where Germans produced the first jet fighters, the Messerschmitt Me 262. It is that factory whose photos, of large corridors rather than a production plant, show up in the articles on this latest find.

Where the claim of “heightened levels of radiation” is linked, the source appears to be an article in the peer-reviewed journal (not!) Forbes, which acknowledges that geologists have said that the levels could be natural. That caveat appears in none of the subsequent articles. That’s all the information that’s available – no numbers that might be evaluated. The Forbes article also treats Sulzer’s other claims with some skepticism.

Terrence McCoy at the Washington Post takes a credulous view, illustrated with another of the Bergkristall photos.

The Daily Mail article links back to another of its articles, in which 126,000 barrels of Nazi nuclear waste were said to have been found in a salt mine near Hanover. In fact, the Asse II mine does contain almost 126,000 barrels of low-level nuclear waste from nuclear power plants, emplaced since 1967. Concern about the mine has led to an investigation of its stability and the possibility of removing the waste and entombing it elsewhere. The risk seems low:

Even in the case of “an uncontrollable influx of solvents” — in other words, if Asse became completely flooded — many decades in the future, the population would be subject to a maximum radiation exposure of 0.1 millisievert, which corresponds to 3 percent of the annual exposure from naturally occurring radiation. The local population would, at most, have to avoid drinking water from the area.

Anyone who is given a standard X-ray, Breckow explains, is exposed to roughly 0.5 millisievert — or five times the annual “Asse dosage.”

When we asked Alex Wellerstein, nuclear historian and author of the blog “Restricted Data,” about the claims, this was his answer:

Here’s a short version of the accepted history of the Nazi bomb project. It still stands.


Update (January 28, 2015): A panel of experts agrees.


Photo of the village of St Georgen an der Gusen, where the tunnels are said to be, from Wikipedia.


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