Idaho State University has been fined for losing a small amount of radioactive, weapons-grade plutonium. While the plutonium is is too small to make a nuclear bomb, it could still be used in a dirty bomb.
Dr. Cornelis Van der Schyf, vice president for research at the university, blamed partially completed paperwork from 15 years ago as the school tried to dispose of the plutonium. Idaho State reported the material missing on October 13 and was hit with an $8,500 fine and has 30 days to dispute the measure.
A spokesman for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission said that the agency “has very rigorous controls for the use and storage of radioactive materials as evidenced by this enforcement action.”
Furthermore, the U.S. Nuclear Regulartory Commission said a school employee doing a routine inventory discovered the university could only account for 13 of its 14 plutonium sources, each weighing about the same small amount.
via Idaho State Journal:
In a statement released on Friday, ISU said improvements to the school’s inventory system and other administrative changes have been put into place to prevent future discrepancies. The statement also said that both the university and regulatory officials have “responded in an appropriate and responsible fashion.”
ISU has a nuclear engineering program and works with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory. The plutonium was being used to develop ways to ensure nuclear waste containers weren’t leaking and to find ways to detect radioactive material being illegally brought into the U.S. after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the school said in an email released on Friday.
The university, which has 30 days to dispute the proposed fine, reported the plutonium missing on Oct. 13, according to documents released by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The agency said a school employee doing a routine inventory discovered the university could only account for 13 of its 14 plutonium sources, each weighing about the same small amount.
ISU searched documents and found records from 2003 and 2004 saying the material was on campus and awaiting disposal. However, there were no documents saying the plutonium had been properly disposed. The last document mentioning the plutonium is dated November 23, 2003.
The U.S. Nuclear Regulartory Commission nuclear commission said senior university officials planned to return the school’s remaining plutonium to the Energy Department