updated - May 20, 2013 Monday EDT
Famous camera-making company Kodak confirmed this week that it used "weapons-grade uranium" in an underground laboratory at their headquarters in Rochester, New York for nearly 30 years, according to a CNN report.
Eastman Kodak Co. confirmed that the radioactive material was handed over to the United States government in 2007, but took five years for the information to now become public. The material, found in an object called a californium neutron flux multiplier (CFX), was about the size of a refrigerator, noted the report, and used to emit radiation rather than as a reactor.
Eastman Kodak spokesman Christopher Veronda told CNN that the material "could not be readily converted to make a nuclear weapon... Disassembling the device and removing these plates was a process that took highly trained experts more than a day to perform."
The device used chemical element californium as the primary source of neutron radiation, and that stream of neutrons, stated the report, was multiplied as it passed a lattice of "highly enriched uranium U-235, whose nuclear fission released additional neutrons."
The concern over the uranium, despite having been locked away in a bunker completely surrounded by a wall of two-feet thick concrete and inspected on a regular basis, was that it was enriched enough to be used as a nuclear weapons device. A spokesperson for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission told CNN that the uranium found in Kodak's stores was very highly-enriched, to a level of 93.4 percent. The reason it could not be used for nuclear warfare, however, was because there simply was not enough of the radioactive material to make a bomb.
"In this day and age, no one should be allowed to possess nuclear-weapons-usable material without providing an armed defense of that material," Edwin Lyman, a nuclear physicist with the Union of Concerned Scientists, said to CNN. "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."
Some nuclear reactors outside of the one removed from Kodak still do exist.
"The (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) reactor, and a (university) reactor in Missouri, both still use highly enriched uranium. The Department of Energy would like those reactors to change the way they operate, so they don't have to use bomb material anymore," Lyman said. "But it's technically hard, it costs a lot of money, and there's resistance."
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