Kodak’s Nuclear Secret

By » Sat, May 19 2012
Small Nuclear Reactor 450x301 Kodaks Nuclear Secret

"You press the button. We do the rest." (img by CNN)

Starting decades ago, Kodak had an interest in neutrons, subatomic particles that can be used to determine the makeup of a given material or to create an image of it without damaging it.  In 1974 it acquired a californium neutron flux multiplier, known as a CFX. Small plates of highly enriched uranium multiplied the neutron flow from a tiny californium core.

The device was not much larger than a refrigerator and, in the one available photo, looked vaguely like Robby the Robot from a 1950s science fiction movie. To house it, Kodak dug a cavity below the basement level of Building 82, part of the company’s research complex along Lake Avenue.

The 14- by 24-foot cavity was reached via a corridor with several right-angle turns and a spiral staircase leading to Building 82’s basement, according to a description of the area included in a decommissioning plan Kodak prepared for regulators. The plan and other documents were made public on the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission website after the uranium was removed.

Nuclear imaging is interesting stuff for sure, and certainly Kodak isn’t the only company invested in subatomic imagery. What I came away from this was not wondering how secure Kodak’s nuclear facilities were, or how they were quietly dismantled.

Nor was I wondering how hard would it be to come across the relevant materials to make a generator or a bomb; the IAEA keeps tabs on this stuff closely, as does the entire global intelligence community (at least, the heavy metal fuels; heavy water, tritium, and deuterium are theoretically something that can be manufactured, if you know how). Although frankly, some people who wanted to make private nuclear reactors have succeeded.  

Kitchen Nuclear Reactor 450x349 Kodaks Nuclear Secret

Handl is reported to have spent around 6,000 kronor ($950) on his project and after all his equipment was seized in the raid, he has confirmed that in the future he intends to focus on the "theoretical" aspects of nuclear physics. (img by Slasher)

Swedish police have detained a 31-year-old man in Ängelholm in western Sweden who was discovered after he sought advice from authorities on the legality of building a nuclear reactor in a domestic kitchen.

What I’m left wondering is just how common are private nuclear reactors. Not just for imagery, but for power. Google has publicly spoken about using nuclear energy to go green.

Enriched uranium is a necessary ingredient in the creation of nuclear energy, and one source we’ve spoken with at Google says that this is part of the Google Green Initiative. The company will use the new technology to enable it to design and possibly build small, mobile and highly efficient nuclear power generators. “Google has already begun building an enrichment plant,” says a high ranking IAEA source.

Ultimately, their goal is to use small nukes to power not just their own massive energy-consuming server farms, but lay the groundwork for everyone, the whole world, to use small, CO2-free nuclear reactors, effectively decentralizing power. Also, they’re not alone. Other companies, like Hyperion Power Generation, share that goal.

Underground nuclear power plants no bigger than a hot tub may soon provide electricity for communities around the world. Measuring about 1.5 meters across, the mini reactors can each power about 20,000 homes.

So again, my question isn’t “Holy piss, Kodak had a nuke!?” but rather, “How many nukes are out there?”

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