Kodak Held Weapon-Usable Uranium for Decades

Eastman Kodak for decades held at a New York state site uranium enriched to nuclear weapon-usable levels, CNN reported on Wednesday (see GSN, May 1).

The uranium was combined with aluminum to form plates used in a californium neutron flux multiplier in operation at the Rochester facility for close to 30 years, according to Albert Filo, a one-time researcher with the company best known for producing cameras and film. The roughly 3 1/2 pounds of material was more than 90 percent short of the amount of uranium that would be required to produce even an improvised nuclear bomb, according to issue specialists. The U.S. government took possession of the material in 2007.

The uranium-aluminum alloy "could not be readily converted to make a nuclear weapon," according to Kodak spokesman Christopher Veronda. "Disassembling the device and removing these plates was a process that took highly trained experts more than a day to perform."

The uranium was enriched to nearly 93.4 percent, a Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokesman said.

"In this day and age, no one should be allowed to possess nuclear-weapons-usable material without providing an armed defense of that material," said physicist Edwin Lyman, with the Union of Concerned Scientists. "There really should be an effort to eliminate the use of materials in commercial companies that could be used by terrorists to make nuclear weapons."

While the quantity of uranium held by Kodak was not sufficient for producing a nuclear weapon, "you can always imagine an adversary that was coordinated could steal enough in different areas to kind of consolidate, and have enough for a bomb," according to Lyman.

Filo acknowledged that the uranium had not been protected by weapon-carrying security personnel at Kodak, but said measures were taken to prevent the substance from being misappropriated. An intruder would have needed hours if not days to take apart the californium neutron flux multiplier located in the plant basement to gain access to the material, he said.

"The walls surrounding it were two feet of reinforced concrete," Filo said. "The ceiling over it was again two feet of concrete and then eight feet of earth. So it was really a well-shielded instrument" (McConnell/Todd, CNN, May 16).

The CFX system was employed in analyzing the purity of chemicals and in neutron radiography, the London Independent reported on Wednesday. Just two such devices were built, specialists said.

"It's such an odd situation because private companies just don't have this material," Miles Pomper, a senior research associate at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, said in the first report on the matter by the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle (David Usborne, London Independent, May 16).

May 16, 2012

Eastman Kodak for decades held at a New York state site uranium enriched to nuclear weapon-usable levels, CNN reported on Wednesday.