Idaho University Faces Fine After Losing Weapons-Grade Plutonium

May 7, 2018

Researchers at Idaho State University said they’ve lost a small amount of weapons-grade plutonium. Federal officials aren’t pleased.

It was one gram and not enough to make a nuclear weapon, according to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Idaho State University researchers probably disposed of it in 2003, but forgot to complete a form.

“We think it was shipped inadvertently to a licensed nuclear disposal facility and is probably not out in the public sector where it would pose a threat to members of the public,” said Victor Dricks, a spokesperson for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

He said it’s a minute amount of material and incidents like this don’t happen very often.

Plutonium is highly regulated at universities. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has proposed fining Idaho State more than $8,000.

University scientists were researching ways to ensure radioactive waste containers didn’t leak and to detect radioactive material that might be illegally smuggled into the United States.

In a statement, a university spokesperson said Idaho State has upgraded their inventory system and says the “radioactive source in question poses no direct health issue or risk to public safety.”

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, Yellowstone Public Radio in Montana, KUER in Salt Lake City and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.

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