Summer Quarterly 2018
Idaho State University’s nuclear engineering program, which works with the Energy Department’s Idaho National Lab, can only account for 13 out of 14 single-gram units of weapons grade plutonium it was using to test containers for radiation leaks. The plutonium was supposed to have been returned to the national lab, but after a thorough search cannot be found. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission fined the university $8,500. Plutonium is the most toxic material known to science and even a single atomic particle if inhaled or ingested can cause cancer.
Dr. Cornelis Van der Schyf, vice president for research at the university, sent a convoluted explanation for the malfeasance to the AP: “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 wrote. Plain translation: The plutonium and the record keeping are both lost.
Dr. van der Schyf went on to say, “The radioactive source in question poses no direct health issue or risk to public safety.” Of course, he is in a position to know this. The routine reassurance brings to mind the words of the great oceanographer Jacques Cousteau who said: “A common denominator, in every single nuclear accident … is that before the specialists even know what has happened, they rush to the media saying, ‘There’s no danger to the public.’ They do this before they themselves know what has happened because they are terrified that the public might react violently, either by panic or by revolt.” —Associated Press; BBC News, May 4, 2018