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Kodak Basement Lab Housed Small Nuclear Reactor 169

Posted by Soulskill
from the could-have-been-quite-the-kodak-moment dept.
McGruber writes "The Rochester (NY) Democrat-Chronicle has the interesting story of the Eastman Kodak Co.'s Californium Neutron Flux Multiplier, which was housed in Building 82 of Kodak Park in Rochester, NY. The multiplier contained 3½ pounds of highly enriched (weapons-grade) uranium. Kodak used it to check chemicals and other materials for impurities, as well as for tests related to neutron radiography, an imaging technique. From the article: 'When Kodak decided six years ago to close down the device, still more scrutiny followed. Federal regulators made them submit detailed plans for removing the substance. When the highly enriched uranium was packaged into protective containers and spirited away in November 2007, armed guards were surely on hand. All of this — construction of a bunker with two-foot-thick concrete walls, decades of research and esoteric quality control work with a neutron beam, the safeguarding and ultimate removal of one of the more feared substances on earth — was done pretty much without anyone in the Rochester community having a clue.'"
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Kodak Basement Lab Housed Small Nuclear Reactor

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  • sigh... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Bugler412 (2610815) on Monday May 14, 2012 @04:51PM (#39999093)
    "Cue the irrational fears and misunderstanding of these materials and processes while the coal fired power plant burns down the street" music
    • "Cue the irrational fears and misunderstanding of these materials and processes while the coal fired power plant burns down the street" music

      I suppose now is a bad time to point out that I could have walked into the room, picked up the cylinders of enriched uranium, played catch with them with a friend for awhile, and then tossed them into a lead-lined box for disposal without worrying much about my health. As long as I didn't lick the damn thing or powderize it and inhale it, there's little risk in short term exposure. :\

    • by Drethon (1445051)
      Those same people who don't complain at all about the propane facilities [firerescue1.com] I drive by regularly.

      I think a major part of it is fear of the unknown. When a propane facility lights off, everyone knows exactly where the danger is (the great big fireballs and those metal tanks dropping from the sky). When a radiation accident happens, you can't see the danger and by the time you find out you've been exposed its too late. The danger is the same (probably higher for non-radioactive accidents...) but the fear fa
  • Good. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Cold hard reality (1536175) on Monday May 14, 2012 @04:51PM (#39999103)

    This way they were actually able to get it done.

  • by toygeek (473120) on Monday May 14, 2012 @04:52PM (#39999111) Homepage Journal

    "Moving nuclear materials. The usual."

  • by GeneralSecretary (1959616) on Monday May 14, 2012 @04:52PM (#39999119)
    Los Angeles used to have a little experimental reactor in UCLA. It was quite controversial once residents found out about it. http://uclafacultyassociation.blogspot.com/2011/04/ucla-history-nuclear-reactor.html [blogspot.com]
  • by mykepredko (40154) on Monday May 14, 2012 @04:57PM (#39999177) Homepage

    Looking at the picture of the device in TFA, doesn't it look like there are shadows of people on the wall around it?

    Now, if I was a conspiracy theorist....

    myke

    • by icebike (68054) *

      Come to think of it, most of my old photos from that era are pretty overexposed .....

      • by Lisias (447563)

        Come to think of it, most of my old photos from that era are pretty overexposed .....

        With plutonium radiation? =P

        (this is a joke!)

  • Who else had one of these for easy, "on-demand" neutron generation. Bell Labs? IBM?
  • Surprising... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Monday May 14, 2012 @05:02PM (#39999223) Journal
    I'm not so surprised that some rather alarmingly powerful beam sources would be operated quietly by people with atypical sensor needs. I am a bit surprised that 3.5 lbs of highly enriched Uranium would be available to serve as a beam source.

    Not telling the neighbors about a scary-sounding piece of industrial/scientific apparatus is one thing, having enough nuclear material to interest a proliferation wonk in your basement, on the other hand, seems like it would raise eyebrows...
    • by bhcompy (1877290) on Monday May 14, 2012 @05:08PM (#39999293)

      I'm not so surprised that some rather alarmingly powerful beam sources would be operated quietly by people with atypical sensor needs. I am a bit surprised that 3.5 lbs of highly enriched Uranium would be available to serve as a beam source.

      I'm sure that in 1985 enriched uranium is available in every corner drugstore, but in 1955 it's a little hard to come by.

      • by PPH (736903)

        Well, 3.5 pounds might be a bit of a problem. Costco only stocks it in the 50 lb containers.

        Don't drop it on your way out to the parking lot.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Isaac-1 (233099)

      Considering the amount of DOD sensor work they did I am not surprised at all.

    • Re:Surprising... (Score:5, Informative)

      by Zcar (756484) on Monday May 14, 2012 @05:43PM (#39999667)

      3.5 lbs? Get another 30 times as much and you'll be close to a critical mass (bare sphere, 85% enriched). 3.5 lbs isn't that dangerous or, by itself, all that interesting from a nuclear weapons proliferation standpoint.

      Fission occurred, but it needed to be pumped by an external neutron source and a runaway chain reaction was pretty much impossible. We're only talking about a ~6 cm sphere of it.

      • by dgatwood (11270)

        It's still probably enough to easily go supercritical and kill you if you compress it sufficiently. It certainly doesn't require a factor of 30; the demon core was only 14 pounds, and killed two people in separate incidents.

  • by blind biker (1066130) on Monday May 14, 2012 @05:08PM (#39999285) Journal

    The department of physics at our university (Aalto university, Finland) has their own nuclear reactor. [wikipedia.org] This brings the total number of nuclear reactors in Finland to five.

    • by burne (686114)

      The TU in Delft, the Netherlands has a nice toy [tudelft.nl] for students as well. At 2 MW(th) and with an imminent upgrade to 3 MW(th) it's not a small one either.

      • Twice the power of ours, already.

        Ahhh, the Netherlands... I love your country apart that ruling to block access to PirateBay

  • I had a clue (Score:3, Informative)

    by Steve1952 (651150) on Monday May 14, 2012 @05:32PM (#39999517)
    I was in Rochester as a small boy in the 1950's, and knew about the reactor from about the age of 4 or so. As I recall, some of the cooling water drained into a small duck pond (surrounded about the fence). I was told that there was some small amount of radioactivity, although no one much was concerned at the time. At any rate, the main thing that got through my 4 year old mind was that for some reason it was not a good idea to try to climb the fence or get near the ducks. At any rate, it was generally known, and not a secret.
  • by k6mfw (1182893) on Monday May 14, 2012 @05:35PM (#39999551)

    I was wondering if anyone selling reactors on ebay (not legal but so is selling human kidneys, which someone always post), I did find a Lionel at only $269.95 (C-9 Factory New - Brand New), http://www.ebay.com/itm/LIONEL-24294-NUCLEAR-REACTOR-/160558274893 [ebay.com]

    But if you can't buy it, then gotta make it as this "fusioneer" as described in "Extreme DIY: Building a homemade nuclear reactor in NYC" http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/10385853 [bbc.co.uk] (though I have doubts as the experts at Lawrence Livermore been talking for 50 years they should have in 10 years able to demonstrate electric power production from a fusion reactor.) But I guess having a fusion reactor working or not in the basement would be pretty cool.

    • by dgatwood (11270)

      Creating fusion is not hard. Philo T. Farnsworth (the TV guy) did it eighty years ago. Creating self-sustained fusion that produces more power than it consumes is hard.

  • I don't know much about nuclear engineering, or the subject as a whole, so maybe somebody can jump in here and clarify.

    My understanding is that "weapons grade" only refers to a degree of purity, and not to actual intent... but I still have to wonder why they chose to have a "weapons grade" reactor to begin with. What benefits are there to having this as opposed to say standard Uranium reactors?

    The University of Maryland (where I graduated) has a research reactor that became higher in profile after the 9/11

    • My understanding is that "weapons grade" only refers to a degree of purity, and not to actual intent...

      Nice catch; technically all fissible material is "weapons grade," in the sense that it can be used to irradiate folks who would rather not be irradiated.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 14, 2012 @06:32PM (#40000237)

      My understanding is that "weapons grade" only refers to a degree of purity, and not to actual intent... but I still have to wonder why they chose to have a "weapons grade" reactor to begin with. What benefits are there to having this as opposed to say standard Uranium reactors?

      It's a neutron source, not a power-generating reactor. It used a smidgeon (tenth of a gram or so) of Cf-252 to spit out some initial neutrons, said neutrons being used to kick off a small (non-self-sustaining) chain reaction in the U-235. The U-235 reaction multiplies the Cf-252 flux by a few orders of magnitude and is the source of the overwhelming majority of the neutron flux. In order to keep such a source compact (and in order to not have to deal with the complications afforded by exposing tons of U-238 to a neutron flux), you probably need to use HEU for such a device.

      Once you've got it up and running, you can then use the neutrons to activate other materials and observe the spectra of whatever your neutron-activated target material emits, which probably enables you to know with a very high degree of accuracy, what your target material was made of. Once you're done with it, pull out the Californium and the whole thing shuts itself down.

      It's kind of crazy to think that we've got Iran spending so much of their state resources trying to manufacture enriched uranium meanwhile we've got Kodak sitting on 3.5lbs of the stuff in a basement in NY doing rando-tests with it.

      Kodak didn't make the HEU, the DoE made the HEU. Kodak was licensed to use it, under very strict controls. It wasn't "hidden in a basement lab", it was buried in a basement for both radiological and security reasons, and it wasn't "forgotten about", its existence just wasn't widely publicized. The DoE knew where it was all the time. It just didn't want to publicize it, for obvious reasons.

      • And of course U-238 "can" obviously capture neutron to transmute into Pu-239. Imagine the joy with that.
    • by f3rret (1776822)

      My understanding is that "weapons grade" only refers to a degree of purity, and not to actual intent...

      This is true, a more general term would be 'highly enriched', meaning uranium which 80% or more pure Uranium-235.

    • by cdrguru (88047)

      A. it isn't a reactor and does not sustain a chain reaction. It is a neutron source only. It does take a bunch of material to produce a strong, continuous neutron beam.

      B. Yes, "weapons grade" is just the ratio of U328 vs. U235.

      C. A common nuclear reactor that produces heat has nearly zero neutron emissions outside of the reactor vessel. Even open-core reactors where water was used as a moderator did not have strong neutron emissions. The neutrons are kept in the fissionable material (pile, rods, etc.) t

  • by sdguero (1112795) on Monday May 14, 2012 @05:42PM (#39999661)
    I just found out, after making a wrong turn and then doing a little research, that General Atomics plays with experimental nuclear and fusion reactor prototypes just a few miles down the road from our office building. I think it's really freakin' cool but I sure there would be a big hubballoo if more San Diegans knew about it.
    • by bware (148533) on Monday May 14, 2012 @06:10PM (#40000007) Homepage

      General Atomics plays with experimental nuclear and fusion reactor prototypes just a few miles down the road from our office building. I think it's really freakin' cool but I sure there would be a big hubballoo if more San Diegans knew about it.

      It's called General Atomics, for chrissakes. I mean, it's not as though they're disguising it.

  • Who really cares? This reactor was extremely small and designed to be a neutron source. These kind of things exist in LOTS of places. I knew of two research reactors on campus when I was in college. One was being jack hammered apart and the other was being used for research (the first one's replacement). One time I got to look down into the reactor pool when it was critical, cool blue glow and all.

    These things are NOT dangerous beyond their obvious use as a source of material for a dirty bomb so as lo

  • Just curious... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Reasonable Facsimile (2478544) on Monday May 14, 2012 @05:52PM (#39999795)
    How many as-yet undetected meth labs pose more danger?
  • There are small research reactors all over the place. Your local university might have one. Lots of developing countries have them. They are generally conservatively designed so that overpower is physically impossible, using something like the doppler effect on reactivity to place an upper limit on power. Big deal.
  • by Greyfox (87712)
    They probably got it on the United Nuclear [unitednuclear.com] web site. I'm sure there's a section under "Radioactive Isotopes" where you can get weapons grade uranium. Or maybe you actually have to call them for that...
  • Back in its heyday you could smell Rochester on the approach by car from all the caustic chemicals Kodak used in the mass production process. If they're worried about a neutron generator used for metallurgical testing then they should be wearing a gasmask from simply living IN Rochester.

  • ...large nuclear reactor floating in the sky.

    Glow so bright that staring at it may cause blindness. Can cause skin burns. Yellow.

    • I think the sun analogy has been avoided intentionally... you dont want the simpletons to think you are planning on building a f-ing sun.

  • This story is not yet getting any "traction". I live in Rochester and worked at Kodak for 26 years. Of course, if it shows up on 60 Minutes all is lost.
  • So there was a tiny 3kg uranium pile at Kodak Park... that'd be south and a bit west of the nuclear power plant, and more or less due north from the University's massive laser-pumped fusion reactor that generates temperatures of 200,000,000K. Somehow, I think those of us living in Rochester were already aware of the possibility of an atomic disaster. ;)
  • Neutron Radiography (Score:3, Interesting)

    by caferace (442) on Monday May 14, 2012 @11:13PM (#40002069) Homepage
    In the early 80's, fresh from a move to Northern California I took a job ($7.50 an hour or so) working at a lab that did Neutron Radiography. The process and results themselves are actually really cool. We'd test things like turbine blades for jet aircraft for porosity or residual casting material, welding flaws in Space Shuttle engines. Neat stuff. Then, it was sort of off in an orchard area with a few houses around. Now? Subdivisions, crowd it. That being said, it really is a low-impact sort of deal. Fire up the reactor in the morning, work, power it down in the afternoon. Within 20 minutes of shutdown you could walk past the containment wall, peer down into the pool and watch the blue glow fade. Neat job, for someone just exploring their potential career field. Twenty years later, I was back in the radiography field from a medical devices software bent.

    And yes, well after, my reproductive organs functioned just fine, thank you. ;)

    -jim

  • This is a neutron source whereby emitted neutrons from u-235 get "amplified" by striking other nuclei. sure, a pot or chamber where "reactions" occur can be called a reactor. but this is not a critical configuration of U-235 such as in a nuclear power plant
  • Kodak is just using this to cover up the fact they've been experimenting with an intrinsic field test chamber. I'm assuming they want to build a super-powered meta-human to help them in their upcoming patent battles.

  • Tour Guide: And here we have the Neutron Flux Multiplier...

    Kid in vest: Uh, does it run, like, on regular unleaded gasoline?

    Tour Guide: Unfortunately, no. It requires something with a little more kick. Californium.

    Kid in vest: Are you telling me that this sucker is nuclear?

    Tour Guide: No, this sucker's electrical, but we need a nuclear reaction to generate the 1.21 gigawatts of electricity we need to make those Instamatics.

E = MC ** 2 +- 3db

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