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Kodak had secret nuclear reactor

Date

James Manning

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It has been revealed that ailing imaging company Kodak had a secret nuclear reactor hidden in a US research facility for more than 30 years.

The reactor, which contained 1.5kg of enriched "weapons-grade" uranium, was a Californium Flux Multiplier (CFX) acquired by the company in 1974 and only decommissioned in 2006.

But Kodak, which filed for bankruptcy in January, claims that the device was fully licensed and perfectly safe.

"The uranium used in the CFX was highly enriched, but ... was not easily adaptable to creating a nuclear weapon," company spokesman Christopher Veronda told Fairfax Media.

"This device presented no radiation risk to the public or employees," Mr Veronda said.

While the reactor was not used to generate power and therefore was not at risk of a meltdown, it was still vulnerable to radiation leaks.

"These devices are very rare," said Miles Pomper, a senior research associate at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Washington, D.C.

"According to the decommissioning plan submitted by Kodak it is only one of two such devices ever produced - and the only one for private industry," Mr Pomper told this website.

There are a number of similar "subcritical assemblies" found around the world, particularly in Russia, but these are government run research facilities.

Neil Sheehan, a spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said that a private company handling these kinds of materials is extremely rare.

The reactor was housed in a bunker with two-foot-thick concrete walls under a research facility in Rochester, New York, without anyone batting an eyelid - until now.

The company insists that the device was never a secret, it just wasn't publicised. The existence of the reactor (though not its location) was even acknowledged in research papers and public documents.

"Think reactor and people think of large nuclear power plants, capable of a runaway reaction," Mr Veronda said.

"This device generated barely enough power to light a typical 4-watt night light. A typical power plant would be 85 million times that."

The CFX, which was roughly the size of a domestic refrigerator, was used for neutron multiplication, an analytical method. Kodak used it to test chemicals for impurities, and to perform neutron radiography - an imaging technique in which neutrons are passed through an object that then produce an image of the object as they expose a photographic film.

If the reactor really was secure, it poses the question: why was it decommissioned?

Kodak claims that in 2003 it made the decision to pursue alternative, more cost-effective methods of analysis.

The uranium was removed in 2007 and taken to a government facility in South Carolina.

- with agencies

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