Kodak Had A Secret Weapons-Grade Nuclear Reactor Hidden In A Basement

Kodak may be going under, but apparently they could have started their own nuclear war if they wanted, just six years ago. Down in a basement in Rochester, NY, they had a nuclear reactor loaded with 3.5 pounds of enriched uranium — the same kind they use in atomic warheads.

But why did Kodak have a hidden nuclear reactor loaded with weapons-grade uranium then? And how did they get permission to own it, let alone have it in a basement in the middle of a densely populated city?

Nobody really knows. Kodak officials now admit that they never made any public announcement about it. In fact, nobody in the city — officials, police or firemen — or in the state of New York or anywhere else knew about it until it was recently leaked by an ex-employee. Its existence and whereabouts was purposely kept vague and only a few engineers and Federal employees really knew about it.

It's extremely strange that Kodak managed to get this. According to Miles Pomper, from the centre for Nonproliferation Studies in Washington. it's "such an odd situation because private companies just don't have this material."

Kodak didn't use it or anything sinister (although the red in those Kodak moments was suspiciously radioactive looking). They used it to check materials for impurities as well as neutron radiography testing. The reactor, a Californium Neutron Flux multiplier (CFX) was acquired in 1974 and loaded with three and a half pounds of enriched uranium plates placed around a californium-252 core.

The reactor was installed in a closely guarded, two-foot-thick concrete walled underground bunker in the company's headquarters, where it was fed tests using a pneumatic system. According to the company, no regular employees were ever in contact with the reactor.

It wasn't until 2006, well after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, that it was decided to dismantle it. [Democrat and Chronicle]


Comments

    "Enriched uranium" is not the same thing as "weapons-grade uranium". Weapons-grade is very highly-enriched uranium, ~85% U-235, whereas "enriched" means anything higher than the natural ~0.7% U-235 (the rest being U-238 in both cases).

    In any case - how is this different from any other radiological instrument? Every industrial process plant I've been to has lots of radiation symbols around from flow meters, and plenty of other facilities would use stronger stuff than that. Granted, it's a little stronger than the average smoke detector you might have on the ceiling in your house (equivalent to about 160,000 of them, according to the decommissioning letter http://pbadupws.nrc.gov/docs/ML0621/ML062120116.pdf) but for an industrial neutron source buried underground, I don't see this as a big deal.

      Also Kodak do manufacture radiological equipment. Whilst it might not be related to this, it's not like they don't have experience in the area.

    Bern, it's the other way round. U-235 is the more common form of uranium, and can be enriched back to the U-238 that it decayed from. The moar u no.

      U-235 is actually the less common isotope (only around 0.72% natually occurs). U238 doesnt undergo fission.

        I believe U-238 *can* undergo fission, it's just a lot, lot harder. In fact, it's so much harder, that about the only (civilian) nuclear use for U-238 in reactors is to breed Pu-239, which can be used as fuel. I think some nuclear warheads use U-238 as a boost material, but it takes a fission bomb to trigger enough fission in the U-238 for it to go bang.
        It's stable enough that it's actually used as radiation shielding (as it's denser than lead).

    I was going to say that it probably had more to do with develping/testing Nuclear Medicine products and alike also poducts used for x-raying welds/structural joins, stress points etc and other engineering applications than anything else.

    My first thought was they they would use it for some kind of testing. I mean they want to make sure their films aren't affected by x-rays, right? X-rays are part of the radioactive spectrum, right? Right?

      Actually, my reading suggests the Californium in it is a neutron source, used for materials testing. The Uranium around uses some of the neutrons emitted to breed more Californium, so it lasts a lot longer, as Californium has quite a short half-life (meaning it would be almost inert after only a few months).

    "no regular employees were ever in contact with the reactor"

    Yep, we just send the contractors down. They're expendable, though the ones who last a few weeks are good. The extra hands mean we can pay for one less person.

      I believe they are called glow boys

    How exactly did they get hold of uranium? Drill down to a secret mine of it under ny

    . Critical mass of u235 is 15kg, u238 is about 52kg. Who cares....

    Yeah....why didn't they advertise they have a reactor??? yeah why didn't they tell everyone where it is...I don't know....maybe they don't want to tell people that aren't ment to know where it is??? I could think of 30 terrorist organisations off the top of my head that might like to know where they can get some Uranium from....

    http://www.physicscentral.com/buzz/blog/index.cfm?postid=1579341143009244947

    Quote from article - "Correction: This blog post originally stated that Kodak's nuclear device was a nuclear reactor as was widely reported. This can be misleading. The device increased the output of neutrons from a radioactive source, but there was not enough material to initiate a chain reaction. The device was used in a very similar way to many research reactors found on university campuses. The post has been edited to reflect this."

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