A new report reveals that the Kodak industrial facility in upstate New York was home to a small nuclear reactor filled with weapons-grade uranium for more than 30 years.
The refrigerator-size reactor was housed in an underground bunker at the former Kodak Par site in Rochester, N.Y., and was used for research purposes, including testing imaging techniques and checking materials for impurities, according to the Democrat and Chronicle newspaper.
The reactor wasn't used to generate power, and Eastman Kodak Co. officials say it had no risk of explosion and never leaked. Although the reactor wasn't exactly secret — it had been referenced in a few research papers — it seems that Kodak did not make local authorities, police and fire departments aware of its existence.
“It was a known entity, but it was not well-publicized,” said Albert Filo, a former Kodak research scientist who worked with the device for nearly 20 years.
Despite its mundane use and clean safety record, the reactor contained 3.5 pounds of highly enriched uranium — the same material used to make nuclear bombs. Reactor access was tightly regulated and the facility was locked down and under remote surveillance.
“I’ve never heard of it at Kodak,” Miles Pomper, senior research associate at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Washington, D.C., told the Democrat and Chronicle, which learned of the facility from an employee a few months ago. “It’s such an odd situation because private companies just don’t have this material.”
Kodak decided to shut down the device six years ago, and federal regulators made the company submit detailed plans for removing the uranium. The highly enriched uranium was reportedly packaged into protective containers and taken away in November 2007.