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Nuclear KODAK Moment. So what?

Highly Enriched Uranium, yes. How much of a threat?

Mainstream media and blogs are alive with the discovery of a nuclear reactor at Eastman Kodak Company (EKC). Enchanting headlines lead us to believe that there is and was a conspiracy to keep the reactor and its contents, 3.5 pounds of enriched uranium, from public knowledge.

 Knowledge of the reactor, its contents, and location had been limited to a small group of employees until an ex-employee recently outed the reactors existence. Supposedly nobody in Rochester/Monroe County, NY government knew about it. The community at large was not informed.  Its interesting how just a few years ago I found two containers labeled "radioactive" sitting unsecured in the back of a truck and nobody seemed to care but, now we're supposed to get upset over a small amount of material that has been safely operating since 1975.

The EKC reactor, a Californium Neutron Flux multiplier (CFX), and associated material had been kept quiet since the mid-seventies. Only two reactors of this type were ever produced and according to documentation, EKC was issued a Special Nuclear Material License by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 1975 for the use/operation of the CFX. The reactor was housed a concrete labyrinth outside the Northwest corner basement of EKC building 82. This building is well known as Kodaks research and development area. Researchers used the CFX reactor for chemical and radiological testing, manufacturing process studies, and investigation of new chemicals.

The reactor was shut down in 2006 with the fissile material/fuels, Uranium/Claifornium (Cf) 252, removed and shipped to the Department of Energy (DOE) Savannah River facility in Aiken, GA.

Kodak Building 82-a mixed industrial/residential area
What should we have known?
The CFX reactor is not a nuclear power plant. Its no Three Mile Island and its no Chernobyl. Should the public, emergency planners and responder shave been informed of the CFX reactor operation? Absolutely. Not because the CFX was dangerous, but because its one more threat that we should have been planning for...just in case. The Greater Rochester region has a robust nuclear response plan in place for the Ginna Nuclear Power Plant. The Ginna plant came on-line in 1969. In 1982 the plant leaked a small amount of radioactive steam. The 93 minute leak resulted in a disaster declaration. Nuclear and radioactive materials is nothing new for this area, and it is inconceivable that the local government did not know of the Kodak CFX reactor existence.

What is the Potential Threat?
If we'd turned on the news today and heard the Iran had obtained 3.5 pounds of highly enriched uranium (HER), I'd be concerned...the revelation of Kodak operating a nuclear reactor doesn't really bother me.

Kodak CFX Reactor
Despite headlines claiming Kodak could start a nuclear war or was sitting on a nuclear bomb, there is little threat to be found long as everything goes as planned. 3.5 pounds of HER is roughly 1.5 Kg of material. The Little Boy dropped on Japan carried approximately 64Kg of HER. With today's nuclear weapons technology, it would take 15 to 25Kg of material to produce a true nuclear weapon.

A major potential for harm comes not from the Uranium but from the lack of knowledge that it exists. Most reports have indicated that local officials were unaware of the reactor. I find this hard to believe since, as noted above, EKC was issued a Special Nuclear Material License by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. However, I’m certain that the responders who protected that area were not aware of the reactor...and there is the danger.  If planners and responders are not aware of a hazard, proper actions will most likely not be taken - the response outcomes will suffer.

Theft or sabotage are the larger threats. Even a small amount of HER or Cf 252 could created a significant dirty bomb threat.

You can check to see how many nukes you are within range of by going looking at the Nuke-O-Meter

Biologic Effects of Radiation
For more on the biologic effects of radiation that covers the basics of radiation as well as the phases and syndromes associated with radiation exposure. You can read the three-part series on Mitigation Journal. Part one is an overview of radiation sources, measurement, and an introduction to the biologic effects, part two covers biological effects, acute radiation sickness and associated symptoms and syndromes, while part three reviews the details of Acute Radiation Sickness (ARS)


School-Based Health Centers, not your average nurses office

HHS tags $75 million for school-based health centers

Image: Seattle School Based Heath
Funding for the school-based health centers capital (SBHCC) program is contained within the Affordable Care Act with an earmarked total of $200 million.  SBHCC will receive $75 million spread out over an estimated 150 grants in 2013. The purpose of SBHCC grants is to help create jobs and improve child health by either implementing a school-based health center or improving an existing school health center. Like retail health clinics and walk-in care/urgent care centers, school-based healthcare centers are (or can be) part of the public health safety net. Children and adolescents will have improved access to healthcare resources while attending school. Kids with special or chronic care needs will also benefit from increased access to care.

According to the Health Resources and Services (HRSA) website:
School-Based Health Center, in general, means a health clinic that
  • is located in or near a school facility of a school district or board or of an Indian tribe or tribal organization;
  • is organized through school, community, and health provider relationships;
  • is administered by a sponsoring facility;
  • provides through health professionals primary health services to children in accordance with State and local law, including laws relating to licensure and certification; and
  • satisfies such other requirements as a State may establish for the operation of such a clinic.
These clinics will provide care and improve overall health and wellness through health screening, promotion and disease prevention.

The "off label" benefit to a community will be increased disease surveillance and additional healthcare resources. These clinics will almost certainly meet the routine health needs of children and adolescents who may otherwise end up in an emergency department. In times of crisis, such as severe flu/pandemic, or other emergency, the school-based clinics could play an important auxiliary role (much like retail healthcare) in the distribution of pharmaceuticals and screening exams.