Kodak's little secret

June 26, 2012
by Sean Ruck, Contributing Editor
[This letter from the editor originally appeared in the June 2012 issue of DOTmed Business News]

Just a few days before I wrote this letter, some interesting news developed from Kodak. With the company getting set to close up shop, some closely guarded information came to light. A story published May 11 in the Democrat and Chronicle provided details about a nuclear reactor that few people knew about, that was located right in the middle of a major city for more than three decades.

The story broke after a former employee mentioned the reactor during an unrelated interview with a reporter a few months ago. After some research, the information was substantiated and really, it's an interesting tale, but not a major cause for concern.

In 1974 Kodak installed a californium neutron flux multiplier. The device was put into an underground room at headquarters in a bunker surrounded by two-foot-thick concrete walls, guarded by closed-circuit security cameras and probably some guards. To cut through the technical details, in essence the refrigerator-sized reactor contained about 3½ pounds of highly enriched uranium which was used to check chemicals for impurities - something that can be a major problem when developing film. But whether it's big enough to enlist the help of weapons-grade radioactive materials may be up for debate.

Perhaps the reason this wasn't front page news everywhere is because while strange, it's not that big of a deal. While there are dozens of similar small reactors elsewhere in the world (Russia being a key host) the U.S. has only a couple research facilities using them. Further, it would take about 100 pounds, or nearly 30 times the amount of weapons-grade uranium Kodak housed, to make a nuclear bomb.

Perhaps the main story was that there's no record of Kodak informing authorities in Rochester of its existence. If anything catastrophic would have happened, police and firefighters would have been entering a situation they weren't prepared to handle. Fortunately, the device was dismantled and the uranium sent to a government facility in 2007. But it leads me to wonder if the concern over nuclear reactors is reasonable and if the worry about setting up some reactors to supply radioisotopes for medical use is unfounded.

Wayne Webster delves into the topic a bit in this issue and he presents an interesting perspective. Some of you may remember Wayne as a regular columnist in the past and I'm happy to have him back this issue - you'll be hearing more about Wayne and some other industry experts in an exciting announcement next issue.

Until next issue!