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Kodak’s nuclear reactor in NYC
Posted: 16 May 2012 03:22 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Story here.

Now, to the small matter of Kodak’s nuclear reactor. Wait. Nuclear WHAT?

-Kodak had weapons-grade uranium in New York basement
-Company used nuclear reactor for quality testing
-Reactor destroyed in 2006

IS this how Kodak gets rid of red-eye?

In a startling development it’s been revealed that a New York Kodak facility secretly housed, oh, we don’t know, ONLY A NUCLEAR REACTOR.

(further down in the story)
“It’s such an odd situation because private companies just don’t have this material,” said Miles Pomper from Washington’s centre for Nonproliferation Studies.

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Posted: 16 May 2012 05:12 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Not too surprising though that a photo-developing company might have this in their history:

Photographic Processing Hazards

Intensifiers and Reducers

A common after-treatment of negatives (and occasionally prints) is either intensification or reduction. Common intensifiers include hydrochloric acid and potassium dichromate, or potassium chlorochromate. Mercuric chloride followed by ammonia or sodium sulfite, Monckhoven’s intensifier consisting of a mercuric salt bleach followed by a silver nitrate/potassium cyanide solution, mercuric iodide/sodium sulfite, and uranium nitrate are older, now discarded, intensifiers. Reduction of negatives is usually done with Farmer’s reducer, consisting of potassium ferricyanide and hypo. Reduction has also be done historically with iodine/potassium cyanide, ammonium persulfate, and potassium permanganate/sulfuric acid.

THE DISCOVERY OF RADIOACTIVE ELEMENTS

Subsequent to Roentgen’s discovery of X-rays, in 1896 a French scientist Henri Becquerel was experimenting with a uranium compound. While investigating the properties of fluorescent minerals, it was Becquerel who discovered that certain types of atoms disintegrate by themselves. When working on the principles of fluorescence, he utilized photographic film to record fluorescence of various minerals when exposed to sunlight.

One of the minerals Becquerel worked with was a uranium compound. The experiment normally consisted of wrapping some photographic film in light proof paper, placing a piece of fluorescent uranium on top of the film, and leaving them in the sun. One day, after preparing the experiment, it was too cloudy to expose his samples to direct sunlight, so he stored the uranium compound and the film in a drawer. A couple of days later, he decided to develop this film anyway, and discovered an image of the uranium sample on the film. Becquerel questioned what would have caused this. He knew he had wrapped the film tightly in light proof paper, so the image was not due to stray light.

In addition, he noticed that only the film that was in the drawer with the uranium compound had an image on it. Becquerel concluded that the uranium compound gave off something invisible that could penetrate heavy paper and affect photographic film. Becquerel continued to test many samples of compounds and determined that the source of the invisible something was the element uranium. This invisible something was named radiation, and it was determined that an element that gives off radiation is a radioactive element. Today, we know uranium as one of the radioactive elements. For his discovery of radioactivity, Becquerel was awarded the 1903 Nobel Prize for physics.

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Posted: 16 May 2012 12:41 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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This was not weapons grade uranium - I think the reporter got a little excited over the scoop and got carried away. The uranium in this kind of equipment would be enriched to about 20% U235. Weapons grade uranium is enriched to 90% or more. This would have as much use as a nuclear bomb as a cup full of worms.

BTW - this was no great “secret.” The reactor was licensed and regulated. And the reactor wasn’t “destroyed.” It was decommissioned. You can even find the decommissing plans and documentation online, along with other NRC documents.

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Posted: 16 May 2012 02:50 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Yeah.. Lots of cities have one, if you know where to look. Our town has one, and there was even a scandal involving the improper disposal of some radioactive beagle corpses… yeah, don’t ask.

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Posted: 16 May 2012 03:33 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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This wasn’t a nuclear reactor like you have at power plants or whatever, it was a californium-252 subcritical neutron multiplier.  Meaning that not only was there less that one-thirtieth of the (not weapons-grade) uranium that would be required to make a nuclear bomb, there wasn’t even enough to undergo a nuclear chain reaction.  It couldn’t melt down or explode or anything like that, it didn’t need a cooling system or regulating system.  It was just a few chunks of metal that sat there and were only dangerous if you stood too close to them for too long; being in the room above this device would have been as hazardous as being in a room built over a bowl of pudding.  Less hazardous, in fact, since the pudding could attract disease-carrying pests.

There’s a method of testing to see what chemical elements are in tiny samples of material, and it’s called neutron activation analysis.  Basically, you throw neutrons at the sample until the atoms in it have absorbed some of them.  This will cause certain atoms in the sample to become slightly radioactive, and they’ll give off a characteristic amount of gamma rays.  You can then use gamma ray detectors to measure the amount of these rays and to figure out what types of atoms were giving off the rays (this is called trace multi-elemental analysis).  This is a very accurate method for testing very small amounts of substance, and is used for all sorts of things.

To do this, you need to have a source of neutrons.  Californium-252 is a radioactive isotope that is good at giving off neutrons.  It is also extremely expensive (having to be made artificially due to its scarcity in nature), with the Atomic Energy Commission selling it at over $60,000 for a milligram.  If the uranium Kodak owned had been californium, it would have cost about a hundred billion dollars.  And since californium-252 has a half-life of less than three years, they would have had to keep on buying more and more.  Obviously, Kodak and other people who use neutron activation analysis will want to use as little californium as possible and to get the most use out of it that they can.  That’s where the much less expensive (relatively speaking) uranium comes into play.  The uranium is shaped into slabs and put around the californium, and when the neutrons from the californium hit the uranium it makes even more neutrons due to the uranium atoms being unstable and falling apart.  Then all of these neutrons go flying along and hit the sample, and the detectors do their detecting of the gamma rays.

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