The UNESCO world heritage site Rjukan has a fascinating 20th century history. Here the Norwegian resistance famously put an end to the German plans of an atomic bomb during World War II by blowing up the heavy water-production facility.
The meltwater from Hardangervidda that flows out via Rjukan is an enormous natural resource. The potential was recognized already at the start of the 20th Century. In 1911 the power station Vemork was constructed in Rjukan. At the time it was the largest of its kind in the world.
Thanks to the energy produced Norsk Hydro could produce potassium nitrate, an important fertilizer that played a key role in reducing the famine of the world. The German occupation of Norway during World War II recognized less peaceful opportunities. A bi-product at Vemork was heavy water – which became a vital part when developing an atomic bomb.
The allied forces feared the German plans. A sabotage was carefully planned and conducted, and in 1943 a group from the Norwegian resistance skied down the mountains and blew up the heavy water-plant.
In 1965 the story of the heavy water-sabotage became a Hollywood-movie starring Kirk Douglas. The film, The heroes from Telemark, was based on the memoirs of one of the participating saboteurs. In 2015 a new dramatization was made. This time a TV-series with the name Kampen om tungvattnet (The Heavy Water War).
Today Vemork houses the Norwegian Industrial Workers Museum (Norsk Industriarbeider Museum) and features a thorough presentation of the heavy-water operation. In Rjukan it is also possible to follow in the footsteps of the saboteurs and hike their chosen escape route after the sabotage.
The enormous growth of Norsk Hydro during the 20th century led to the transition of Rjukan, from a small village to a small industrial city. This resulted in a unique environment where the drama of the spectacular landscape met with early industrial architecture and the characteristic wooden resident houses. In 2015 Rjukan-Nøtodden industrial heritage site was included on the UNESCO world heritage list.