For Kodak, nuclear reactor and weapons-grade uranium proved useful

Kodak had a nuclear reactor

An Eastman Kodak facility had a small nuclear reactor and 3 ½ pounds of weapons-grade uranium for more than 30 years. (Associated Press / May 14, 2012)

Kodak has the bomb.

 … OK, not really. But according to a report from the Rochester, N.Y., Democrat and Chronicle, an Eastman Kodak facility had a small nuclear reactor and 3 ½ pounds of weapons-grade uranium for more than 30 years.

Kodak. The company that makes cameras and printers.

“It’s such an odd situation because private companies just don’t have this material,” Miles Pomper, a senior research associate at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Washington, D.C., told the Democrat and Chronicle.

No kidding. A spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission told the Los Angeles Times that the company had enriched 1,582 grams of uranium-235 up to 93.4%, a level considered weapons-grade. Good thing Kodak isn't in Iran; that’s the kind of thing Israel’s been threatening to go to war over.

The company was using the reactor to check its chemicals and perform radiography tests, the commission said, and had upgraded to its in-house system after using one at Cornell University, according to the Democrat and Chronicle. It was reportedly guarded and monitored carefully.

Kodak, not known as one of the world’s nuclear powers, filed for bankruptcy protection in January and has been shedding some of its holdings.

Lest this story conjure up memories of the anxiety over “loose nukes” after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Kodak ditched the uranium in 2007 with the coordination of the U.S. government, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Neil Sheehan, a commission spokesman, told The Times that he doesn't know how many private companies have weapons-grade uranium but that Kodak’s situation was rare. “This was a unique type of device they were using at Kodak,” he said.

Only one other like it existed, and it belonged to the U.S. Department of Energyand was decommissioned in the 1990s.

According to government data, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission oversees 31 research reactors in the U.S. Most of them are at universities, but Aerotest in San Ramon, Calif., Dow Chemical Co. in Midland, Mich., and GE-Hitachi in Sunol, Calif., have each had operating licenses to run research reactors for more than 40 years.


 

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