ISU loses small amount of weapons-grade plutonium

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POCATELLO — Idaho State University has misplaced a small amount weapons-grade plutonium and now the federal government wants to fine the university $8,500.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission released a statement Friday about the missing radioactive material. NRC officials say ISU failed to maintain “control and surveillance” of 1 gram of plutonium-239, which is used for research at ISU. Officials say ISU also failed to maintain an accurate accounting of its radioactive material inventory.

NRC spokesman Victor Dricks said the material, which is about the size of a quarter, went missing sometime between 2004 and 2017, when it was finally reported to federal officials.

Plutonium-239 is used in the creation of nuclear reactors and nuclear bombs; however, this amount is insufficient to create a nuclear bomb.

Dricks said a smaller improvised dirty bomb could be created with the material to spread radiation among a population.

When the material went missing it was sealed in a container and would not have posed any danger to nearby people, Dricks said.

Idaho State University officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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