Kodak had weapons-grade uranium

For three decades, camera company Kodak had a secret deep inside an underground lab in its Rochester, New York research facility: weapons-grade uranium and a californium neutron flux multiplier. (No, not a flux capacitor.) They stored 3.5 pounds of the uranium, apparently not enough to make a nuclear weapon but still not something you'd expect to find in most corporate research labs. The Union of Concerned Scientists are, well, concerned. From CNN:

Nuclearkodak Kodak turned the material over to the government in 2007, under heavy security. But for more than 30 years, the company had a device called a californium neutron flux multiplier, or CFX, in a specially built labyrinth beneath Building 82 at its labs near Rochester, New York. The device was about the size of a refrigerator. It was not a reactor, but rather a hunk of metal emitting radiation. Its purpose was to create a beam of neutrons to use for scanning and testing other materials. The device's primary source of neutron radiation was the radioactive element californium, but the stream of neutrons produced by the californium was multiplied by passing it through a lattice of highly enriched uranium U-235, whose nuclear fission released additional neutrons.

According to a spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Kodak's uranium was highly enriched -- to a level approaching 93.4%. That is the type of weapons-grade material that U.S. government agencies are trying to prevent terrorists from getting their hands on…

Kodak says it never intended to hide the CFX, and it was licensed by both state and federal officials. But the fact that the company was handling highly enriched uranium was never widely publicized.

"Kodak confirms it had weapons-grade uranium in underground lab"


  1. I submitted this several days ago (from Gizmodo… CNN had not picked it up  yet).

    Oh well, David you are still my favorite Pescovitz (Ora is way less fun)

    1. Ha! Thanks. Ora is pretty fun too. And she knows more than me about pediatric endocrinology. Among other things. Many other things.

      1. Yeah, but on new years, you posted a pic of some woman pissing out a BART bus window.  
        Ora only posted a pic of her at a football game with a tiny little flag  :-)

        The best fun, was that I was not paying attention as to who posted what at first.

  2. I’m not sure what all the fuss is about. They were licensed by the feds, and publicizing that one has a small nuclear reactor would just be an invitation to terrorists.

    So what’s so remarkable?

    1. Because it demonstrates that dangerous materials can in fact be handled safely and without incident. Kodak assumedly got some useful research out of having it available and there’s nothing wrong with that. That they held on to it for 3 decades without issue is a pretty good compliment to the company.

      Well, that’s what I got out of it anyway. I assume most people will take something else entirely out of the news.

    2.  Well, let’s speculate what would happen IF they hadn’t turned over the U-235 to the Feds in 1988, & instead made a small nuclear device when they started to go bankrupt.   Then used the nuke to refuse to allow creditors to seize their assets.  Can you say too Mad Scientist to fail?

  3. How many other private companies have significant amounts of weapons-grade uranium? I’m sure that the bad guys will now try to find out, so I hope their security is good. You can’t count on ignorance as a security measure.

  4. I’m kinda surprised they didn’t try to save the company from bankruptcy by selling the uranium to any number of interested governments and “NGOs.”

  5. “3.5 pounds of the uranium, apparently not enough to make a nuclear weapon”

    A fissile weapon, sure, but I bet most people would group “radiological dispersal device” under the “nuclear weapon” banner.

    1.  You wouldn’t use U-235 for that, though, would you?  It’s not hot enough with its 700 million-year half-life..

    2. Exactly; just like spitting on some nobody is just spitting but spitting on the president is an attack using a biological weapon. Cause it’s waaay dangerous, y’know?

    3. U-235 would never make an effective dirty bomb. In fact, dirty bombs in general are extremely unlikely to cause real damage beyond their explosive force anyway. It’s extremely difficult to expose someone to enough radiation to be immediately dangerous that way, and then the radioactive materials are too easy to clean up.

      1. Slamming two airplanes into two buildings resulted in plenty of collateral damage: 10 years of policies and actions by the US that the terrorists could only dream of.

        Wonder what setting off a largely ineffective but still quite spectacular dirty bomb would do.

  6. It wasn’t weapons grade.  A lot of people seem to use “weapons grade” as an uninterpreted obligatory scary modifier to “uranium”, but words have actual meanings and in this case it does not apply.

    1. Well, according to the story, it was “highly enriched U-235,” and “weapons grade.” I understand that uranium != weapons grade uranium, but unless you have some information that is not in the linked story, I think your comment is misplaced.

      According to a spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Kodak’s uranium was highly enriched — to a level approaching 93.4%. That is the type of weapons-grade material that U.S. government agencies are trying to prevent terrorists from getting their hands on.

      1.  The MTR type of fuel plate used in the CFX was initially an alloy of 80% aluminum and 20% uranium (93% U235).  However in the 1950s the composition was switched, for non-proliferation reasons, to 55% aluminum / 45% uranium (20% U235).  Kodak’s CFX dates from 1974.  20% U235 is the low-end of the definition of “highly enriched uranium”, and is not “weapons grade”. CNN heard the NRC spokesman say “highly enriched uranium”, looked up the definition, and assumed this material was at the high end of the range.  It wasn’t.  CNN got it wrong.

    2. I agree. I have a rubber band and a  paperclip, both are “weapons grade” if I bend the paper clip a certain way and stretch the rubber-band between my thumb and index finger. 

  7. “to a level approaching 93.4%”  

    So actually more like 93.3999996,  amirite? Hey CNN copy editor – “approaching” has 11 characters in it..  if the “four-tenths” is not precise enough, why not drop the wiggle word and use the column inches to print all the sig-figs that your intrepid reporter has presumably provided?

  8. Kodak had access to weapons-grade uranium? And yet they still had to go into bankruptcy protection?

    That, to my mind, argues a lack of imagination on the part of their executives. I don’t know what they teach kids at business school these days, but clearly they’re not comfortable thinking outside the box to create novel income-generating strategies.

  9. These “Big companies have interesting stuff” scare-mongering stories perplex me.  Do people really not know that large companies, especially those with big government contracts, have these sorts of things.

    I used to walk by the Chandra X-Ray Observatory every day while it was under construction by Kodak.  Should I tell people that I strolled mere inches away from a Space Based Potential Death Ray Machine now?

    1. Heck, a lot of small organizations have this kind of equipment – universities in particular. I’m wondering when Boing Boing will post “BREAKING: REED UNIVERSITY HAS A TRIGA REACTOR IN A CITY.” Sure, they give tours of it, but that’s probably a conspiracy to irradiate the public.

  10. Kodak needed this neutron source  to develop and test neutron-sensitive film (used for medical, physics and engineering/ non-destructive part testing purposes) and solid-state detectors, some of which were used on non-proliferation /test-ban monitoring satellites.  This neutron source had a strongly positive effect on the world. The ignorant, scare-mongering tone of this article is reprehensible.

  11. Medical imaging devices equals uranium. Kodak was in the medical imaging business too. 

    Found here on BB as a link, don’t remember the posting,  The Goiania accident.  (Web PDF)  http://www-pub.iaea.org/mtcd/publications/pdf/pub815_web.pdf

    And this article about medical devices that use enriched uranium. http://www.nti.org/gsn/article/using-highly-enriched-uranium-to-make-medical-products-poses-double-risk-experts-warn/

  12. I don’t see what the big deal is. I’ve been following the webcomic “Hiroshima Kodak” for years now.


  13. I think it that could’ve been the awesomest press conference in history.

    Kokak PR Drone: “I am sorry to announce that effectively today, Eastman Kodak is filing for bankruptcy protection. Oh, and in unrelated news, we’d also like it to be known that we are in possession of 3.5lbs of weapons grade uranium. That is all.”

  14. Forget Iran and North Korea.  Kodak is the world’s next rogue power and the newest member of the Axis of Evil.


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