UPDATED: Uranium lost in New Jersey, radioactive material missing globally
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Tuesday August 22, 2006
A small quantity of highly enriched uranium has been lost in New Jersey, and likely disposed of in New York or Pennsylvania, RAW STORY has learned.
The incident is just one of 103 reported cases of nuclear trafficking in 2005, according to a report issued yesterday by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
The IAEA's Illicit Trafficking Database Program (ITDB) reports on trafficking and other unauthorized activities involving nuclear and radioactive materials worldwide. The 103 incidents detected so far this year by ITDB represented a decline from 2004, but were still greater than all other previous years since the agency began collecting information in 1993.
In one April 2005 incident, highly enriched uranium (HEU) that could be used to make a nuclear weapon, was lost in the US State of New Jersey. The total amount gone missing was 3.3 grams, a small quantity. The IAEA remarked about the incident, "From the terrorism threat standpoint, these cases are of little concern but they show security vulnerabilities at facilities handling HEU."
According to Jill Lipoti, Director of the Division of Environmental Safety and Health of New Jersey's Department of Environmental Protection, an investigation determined that the materials were not stolen, but rather accidentally discarded by LeDoux & Company, an analytical firm using the uranium for chemical analysis.
"Any time radioactive materials are lost or go astray, we get a call," Lipoti explained. "The investigation determined there was no criminal intent."
The material, according to New Jersey DEP, would then have been taken to one of five landfills in New York or Pennsylvania.
Exposure to the discarded material "poses no threat to public safety," Lipoti insists. "It's less than a fraction of the public dose limit."
But the New Jersey case is just one of nineteen involving quantities of nuclear material--although only one more in Japan involved a miniscule quantity of HEU. It is also one sixteen confirmed cases of lost fissile material globally since 1993. Fissile material can be used in the production of fuel for a nuclear weapon.
Most of the remaining cases involved quantities of radioactive material that cannot be used in a nuclear weapon, though some could potentially be used in a so-called "dirty bomb."
The IAEA's report can be accessed at its website.
[Correction: An earlier version of this story indicated that the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection had been unable to return calls prior to press time. The Department did, in fact, speak with RAW STORY briefly before the story ran, but had been unable to collect the information requested before press time. RAW STORY apologizes for any confusion this may have caused.]