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Weapons Grade Plutonium Goes Missing at Idaho State University

Weapons Grade Plutonium Goes Missing at Idaho State University

“could be used to make a dirty bomb to spread radioactive contamination”

This sounds extraordinarily bad. The amount that’s missing is small but that doesn’t really matter.

The Independent reports:

Weapons grade plutonium goes missing from US university

A small amount of radioactive, weapons-grade plutonium has gone missing from a university in Idaho.

Idaho State University was using the radioactive chemical element, which was about the size of a 10p piece, for research.

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission said the university could not account for about a 30th of an ounce (one gram) of the material, which is used in nuclear reactors and to make nuclear bombs.

While the amount is too small to make a nuclear bomb, it could be used to make a dirty bomb to spread radioactive contamination, said Victor Dricks, a spokesman for the agency.

“The NRC has very rigorous controls for the use and storage of radioactive materials as evidenced by this enforcement action,” he said of the proposed fine of $8,500 (£6,280) for failing to keep track of the material.

Dr Cornelis Van der Schyf, vice president for research at the university, blamed partially completed paperwork from 15 years ago as the school tried to dispose of the plutonium.

“Unfortunately, because there was a lack of sufficient historical records to demonstrate the disposal pathway employed in 2003, the source in question had to be listed as missing,” he said in a statement. “The radioactive source in question poses no direct health issue or risk to public safety.”

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Comments

Oversoul Of Dusk | May 6, 2018 at 5:05 pm

A terrible article from the Independent. It avoids offering ANY specific facts about the missing radioactive source. The whole purpose seems to be to maximize the use of scare words like “plutonium” and “nuclear bomb”.

Let’s bypass the leftstream media and study the official documents from the NRC (Nuclear Regulatory Commission):

NRC news release:
https://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/news/2018/18-007.iv.pdf

Inspection report:
https://www.nrc.gov/docs/ML1801/ML18017A373.pdf

My conclusion is that ISU has been chronically sloppy with their inventory control and paperwork for their radioactive sources. The source in question (serial number AP-237) has been unaccounted for since 2003/2004, but they only realized it in 2017.

They had 2 similar sources reported missing in 2010, but they found them in 2011. I’m surprised the NRC didn’t notice the inventory discrepency regarding AP-237 back in 2010.

In my opinion, the proposed fine is way too small.

Losing their permit to have ANY radioactive material would be a good start…

Why the hell do they need weapons grade plutonium any how? It’s Idaho State University — we’re not exactly talking top tier research school.

    Cleetus in reply to Leshrdn. | May 7, 2018 at 5:48 am

    Idaho State University is just “down the road” from the Idaho National Laboratory. Since the late 1940’s the INL has conducted research in the construction of nuclear reactors and other nuclear related issues. Being the nearest university to the site, ISU has been the recipient of numerous samples and such in an effort to make teaching at ISU more tailored to the work being conducted at the INL. In fact, the INL and ISO have multiple agreements concerning the continuing education of the INL workforce, research collaboration, and so forth. Controls at ISU were and are little different from those at any other university where there is a general attitude of the rules do not apply to them because they know so much more than everyone else. The entire issue reported upon here is nothing more than the intersection of typical university intellectual arrogance meeting government paranoia all being aided and abetted by the news media looking for a story. In all likelihood, the sample has been misplaced and nothing more for it is far too small to be used for anything other than calibrating various pieces of equipment and other similar related teaching exercises. It should be noted that plutonium is extremely toxic, but only if you inhale it and most universities will be fully aware of this danger and, as such, the sample will likely be labeled to death and packaged in such a way that human contact with it is near impossible. It is also likely it is sitting in the back of someone’s office drawer where it was placed and subsequently forgotten about. (You’d be amazed how often something like this happens.)

Oh wow … they’ve been fined … damn … oh I bet that made a big impression on ISU …

Find the missing stuff, fire the people involved, take back the material they have now, fine the hell out of them … make sure they can never get their hands on nuclear material again.

Albigensian | May 8, 2018 at 1:42 pm

“about the size of a 10p piece.” g
“about a 30th of an ounce (one gram)”

But the current 10p coin weighs in at 6.5g. The current 10p coin is mostly steel, and plutonium has over twice the density of steel. So if it’s truly the size of a 10p piece one would expect a piece “about the size of a 10p piece” to contain far more than just one gram.

Or perhaps the journalist meant “it’s about the same diameter as a 10p piece” (but it’s much thinner. Or maybe the Pu here is alloyed with a very light metal, or something?

Or perhaps the journalist doesn’t know and doesn’t much care to find out. After all, math and science can be real hard, y’know?

Although “weapons grade” plutonium does imply Pu-239, and you surely would not want to inhale even a very small amount of that. And I don’t doubt that regulators get very unhappy indeed when even a small amount of nuclear material “goes missing.”

So, how much plutonium is missing, and how dangerous is it? Well, umm, after reading this, who really knows?

Albigensian | May 8, 2018 at 3:50 pm

Obamacare mandates that the highest-risk insured be charged no more than three times what the lowest-risk insureds pay. Yet (and especially considering that coverage must be offered to those with costly pre-existing conditions) the actuarial cost of providing the insurance varies by a far larger margin than 3-to-1.

This is often characterized as “the healthy pay for the sick,” but that applies to all health insurance. Just as surely as the premiums of those who buy car insurance and don’t crash their cars will pay for those who do.

What distinguishes the redistributionism of Obamacare not “the healthy pay for the sick” but that the premiums (by design) do not align with actuarial risk. In a free insurance market these will align as any company that tries to overcharges low-risk insureds will create an opportunity for a competitor to offer a better (yet still profitable) deal.

Did those who wrote Obamacare figure that low-risk people would pay anyway- because of the mandate, or because they wouldn’t figure out they were being overcharged, or for some other reason? If so, it seems they figured wrong.

Of course, the one “offer you can’t refuse” is an offer to take your tax money in return for some promised benefit. And that presumably will be Round Two in this political battle.

Can conservatives convince the public that often “free of charge” is far from free (and often the quality isn’t so good either)? Well, good luck with that.

    Oversoul Of Dusk in reply to Albigensian. | May 8, 2018 at 10:00 pm

    This is (was) a 1 gram Pu source, sealed in some kind of metal capsule. That much is clear from the NRC inspection report (the second link I posted above). There’s a photograph of similar Pu sources, next to a U.S. quarter, in the report.

    ISU had 14 of these sources. This one has been missing since around 2004. In 2003, a routine test of the source suggested that it had a (tiny, insignificant) leak and they decided to retire it from active use.

    These sources are pretty hot: 14 mrem/hour on contact or 1 mrem/hour at a distance of 1 meter. Just from a radiation safety point of view, it’s not something a prudent person would lose track of.

    The relevant regulation for inventory control of these sources is 10 CFR 74.13:
    https://www.law.cornell.edu/cfr/text/10/74.13

    I believe the regulation required ISU to do a yearly inventory. According to the NRC inspection report, ISU claimed to have possession of all 14 sources every year from 2002 to 2017, except for a few months in 2013 when they loaned out 8 grams. So ISU had at least a dozen bogus inventory reports during the time period. It’s too bad the NRC doesn’t plan to fine the individuals involved, as well as the university.

    I wish someone would fire the idiot(s) at NRC who noticed ISU’s inventory problems in 2010, but didn’t fine them and make them fix the problems at that time. Incompetence in every direction!

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