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An Idaho University Misses Small Amount of Plutonium, Fined $8,500

The school searched documents and found records from 2003 and 2004 saying the material was on campus and awaiting disposal.

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The last document mentioning the plutonium is dated Nov. 23, 2003. It said the Idaho National Laboratory didn’t want the plutonium and the school’s technical safety office had it “pending disposal of the next waste shipment.”
Idaho State University, wikimedia commons

A small amount of radioactive, weapons-grade plutonium about the size of a U.S. quarter is missing from an Idaho university that was using it for research, leading federal officials on Friday to propose an $8,500 fine.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission said Idaho State University can’t account for about a 30th of an ounce (1 gram) of the material that’s used in nuclear reactors and to make nuclear bombs.

The amount is too small to make a nuclear bomb, agency spokesman Victor Dricks said, but could be used to make a dirty bomb to spread radioactive contamination.

“The NRC has very rigorous controls for the use and storage of radioactive materials as evidenced by this enforcement action,” he said of the proposed fine for failing to keep track of the material.

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 Associated Press. “The radioactive source in question poses no direct health issue or risk to public safety.”

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission said Idaho State University can’t account for about a 30th of an ounce (1 gram) of the material that’s used in nuclear reactors and to make nuclear bombs.
Plutonium Representational Image, Pixabay

Idaho State University has a nuclear engineering program and works with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory, considered the nation’s primary nuclear research lab and located about 65 miles (105 kilometers) northwest of the school.

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. following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the school said in an email to the AP.

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.

The school 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 Nov. 23, 2003. It said the Idaho National Laboratory didn’t want the plutonium and the school’s technical safety office had it “pending disposal of the next waste shipment.”

The school also reviewed documents on waste barrels there and others transferred off campus since 2003, and opened and examined some of them. Finally, officials searched the campus but didn’t find the plutonium.

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The nuclear commission said senior university officials planned to return the school’s remaining plutonium to the Energy Department. It’s not clear if that has happened.

Energy Department officials didn’t return calls seeking comment Friday.

Dricks, the commission spokesman, said returning the plutonium was part of the school’s plan to reduce its inventory of radioactive material.

He said overall it has “a good record with the NRC.” (VOA)

 

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U.S. Pentagon Emits More Greenhouse Gases Than Portugal, Study Finds

The Pentagon, which oversees the U.S. military, released about 59 million metric tons of carbon dioxide

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U.S., Pentagon, Greenhouse Gases
FILE - The Pentagon building is seen in Washington. VOA

The United States creates more planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions through its defense operations alone than industrialized countries such as Sweden and Portugal, researchers said Wednesday.

The Pentagon, which oversees the U.S. military, released about 59 million metric tons of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in 2017, according to the first study to compile such comprehensive data, published by Brown University.

The Pentagon’s emissions were “in any one year … greater than many smaller countries’ greenhouse gas emissions,” the study said.

If it were a country, its emissions would make it the world’s 55th-largest contributor, said Neta Crawford, the study’s author and a political scientist at Boston University.

U.S., Pentagon, Greenhouse Gases
FILE – Air pollution hangs over the skyline as the sun rises over Beijing’s central business district, Jan. 14, 2013. VOA

“There is a lot of room here to reduce emissions,” Crawford said.

Request for comments to the Pentagon went unanswered.

Troop movements

Using and moving troops and weapons accounted for about 70% of its energy consumption, mostly due to the burning of jet and diesel fuel, Crawford said.

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It dwarfed yearly emissions by Sweden, which the international research project Global Carbon Atlas ranks 65th worldwide for its of CO2 emissions.

Pentagon emissions were higher than those of Portugal, ranked 57th by the Global Carbon Atlas, said Crawford.

China is the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide, the main gas responsible for climate change, followed by the United States.

The Pentagon called climate change “a national security issue” in a January report to Congress and has launched multiple initiatives to prepare for its impact.

U.S., Pentagon, Greenhouse Gases
The United States creates more planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions. Pixabay

Global temperatures are on course for an increase of 3 to 5 degrees Celsius (5.4-9.0 degrees Fahrenheit) this century, far overshooting a global target of limiting the increase to 2 C or less, the U.N. World Meteorological Organization said in November.

Four degrees Celsius of warming would increase more than five times the influence of climate on conflict, according to a study published in Nature magazine on Wednesday.

Improvements

Crawford said the Pentagon had reduced its fuel consumption significantly since 2009, including by making its vehicles more efficient and moving to cleaner sources of energy at bases.

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It could reduce them further by cutting fuel-heavy missions to the Persian Gulf to protect access to oil, which were no longer a top priority as renewable energy gained ground, she said.

“Many missions could actually be rethought, and it would make the world safer,” she said. (VOA)