Idaho school can't find small bit of weapons-grade plutonium


Staff member
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."

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.

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.


Power Poster
I think the goverment is not trying to cause panic because they only said "not enough for nuclear bomb" but they never say anywhere about a improvised/crude Atomic Bomb which could level any entire major city no different then a nuclear weapons.

The amount is indeed enough for a improvised atomic bomb or device. Which in reality, exploded in any major city would be just as a bad as a nuclear bomb. There not lying but not telling hole truth, it is indeed not enough for a nuclear device, but enough to create a crude atomic bomb/device.

Note that the goverment has paid Universities to have their best students make a crude/improvised functioning atomic device/bomb using all items you can buy at a store, of course short of its main ingredients Ura., or Plu.. But these students where able to make a fully functioning atomic device with just things they bough here in the US from simple hardware stores, only thing they need is just a very small amount of the same shit that was just stolen.

If the FBI, CIA, NSA, do not find this material I am fearing the worse and these guys whom stole it already had a device ready and needed the main ingredients, and very soon we will either have there plot foiled, or one major US will be gone soon.


Plutonium is definitely a bad thing to lose track of, but let's not lose our heads. They cannot account for 1 gram, it takes approximately 4'500 grams to make an implosion bomb. To say the amount lost is insufficient to make a bomb is a vast understatement. A 22lr bullet weighs 2 grams, and plutonium is almost twice as dense. You couldn't make a dirty bullet with that much, let alone a dirty bomb.

You could make a pretty dangerous stick of chewing gum with it, that would be my suggested delivery method for that quantity.


Power Poster
True not enough here in this case, but there is plenty of missing weapons grade material out there, not just in the US but around the world, US border is big, heavily protected, but big. Still relatively easy to evade border patrol or coast guard to sneak said missing weapons grade material in US and make the atomic device with parts easily available to buy freely in US.

I firmly believe the US next greatest tragedy or next "9/11" will be a atomic device set off by a terrorist in either D.C or New York New York, with the facts its only a matter of time, US gov is good, but can't keep track of every single person on the planet and sometime or another a person or persones will slip through... All it will take is one person to be sucsusful to level a entire US major city.


A terrorists nuke won't be what brings the US down. We will tear ourselves to pieces with words and ideas. Then the blood and tears come.

I am from Southeast Idaho. My family all went to ISU. I drive within a mile of the site of the SL1 incident twice a day (arguably the worst nuclear reactor incident in US history). That was many orders of magnitude worse than some piddling gram of plutonium. The world went on.

What seems to have happened in this case, based on local reporting and radio interviews, is that they lost the paperwork, not the plutonium. I'm not going to cry either way.


Power Poster
Want to make this very clear, never said it would bring the US down, it would level a entire US city as that is what a atomic devise douse. Talking bigger picture, this is a threat much over looked, as its at a very high risk of possibly. Not talking about just this said accident.

Talking about the possible pounds and pounds of weapons grade material "lost" through time, like when the U.S.S.R fell and lost perhaps pounds of that shit, or Russia's sloppy way of dismantlement of nuclear weapon's & losing the material in those bombs.... That is still out there and pointing out how very easy it would be for a terror group to steal or fund scientist to create said device in US, WHILE pointing out too our borders are strong but not fool proof, only thing they have to do is sneak the material in the border. I am saying the US next big tragedy will likely be a terror nuke and it will level a entire city, again not bring the US down, but bring a entire US city down none the less.


Deputy Director
Staff member
KimPossible echoes the sentiments of a lot of terrorism experts, most of whom are in agreement that if global geopolitics continue as they have for the past two decades, a terrorist group purchasing, stealing, or building a simple nuclear device and setting it off in a major American city is a matter of "when," not "if."


There are in excess of 8 plutonium cores, including intact nuclear bombs, that have gone missing in accidents since the 1950's... A mere gram of weapons grade plutonium is nothing to get worked up over. What's more concerning is it took the Nuclear Regulatory Commission 15 years to notice it was lost. I wonder what else has gone missing due to inaccurate paperwork.