School Can't Account for a Gram of Plutonium

Idaho State University could be fined $8.5K
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 7, 2018 7:30 PM CDT
Updated May 8, 2018 1:33 AM CDT
In this May 11, 2015, file photo, nuclear waste is stored in underground containers at the Idaho Nation.   (AP Photo/Keith Ridler, File)

(Newser) – A university has admitted to misplacing a gram of weapons-grade plutonium, and federal authorities want to fine them $8,500. Per CNN, Idaho State University has not been able to account for the bit of radioactive material since 2003 but, nonetheless, believes it was properly stored at a licensed disposal facility. However, with no documented proof, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission said Friday it must propose the fine. 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. "Unfortunately, because there was a lack of sufficient historical records to demonstrate the disposal pathway employed in 2003, the source in question had to be listed as missing," he said in a statement to the AP.

The statement said the plutonium "poses no direct health issue or risk to public safety." 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 US following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. While the missing amount could not be used to make a nuclear bomb, it could be used to create a so-called dirty bomb to spread nuclear contamination. 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. (Read more plutonium stories.)

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