It Makes Perfect Sense That Kodak Had A Nuclear Reactor Stashed In The Basement

We’ve all got old stuff kicking around in basements and attics that we’ve forgotten about. But hey, what’s this in Kodak’s basement? Oh, it’s just a nuclear reactor and 3.5 pounds of highly enriched uranium. Makes sense for a photography company to have such a thing.

Democrat and Chronicle says Kodak Park in Rochester, N.Y. had the research reactor in its basement for more than 30 years. Nothing ever leaked, and Eastman Kodak Co. officials swear the device was perfectly safe. It was locked down, remotely surveilled and tightly regulated.

Six years ago the company decided to close it down, and had to submit detailed plans for removing it and the uranium to federal regulators. The uranium was packed up nice and tight into protective containers and sent off in November 2007.

It’s not that the reactor was exactly a secret — a few research papers mentioned it and it was referred to in public documents.

“It was a known entity, but it was not well-publicized,” said Albert Filo, a former Kodak research scientists who worked with the device for nearly 20 years.

So what was the thing doing there, anyway? Everyone seems to be a bit baffled as to why Eastman Kodak would have weapons-grade uranium at all, much less in a post-9/11 world. It seems to have been connected to the company’s interest in neutron imaging, which can create an image of the makeup of a material without damaging it.

In 1974, Kodak acquired a californium neutron flux multiplier, and used it to check chemicals and other minerals for impurities.

“This device presented no radiation risk to the public or employees. Radiation from the operation was not detectable outside of the facility,” a company spokesman said.

*Thanks for the tip, Mike!

Did you know? Kodak had a nuclear reactor [Democrat and Chronicle]


Edit Your Comment

  1. Applekid ┬──┬ ノ( ゜-゜ノ) says:

    I’m pretty disappointed that the knee-jerk defensive position is “no radiation risk”. I’d be more excited to see a spokesman saying “I KNOW! Isn’t it NEAT?!”

    • KyBash says:


      Who knows how many other American companies qualify as a nuclear power?

      • El_Fez says:

        Actually, loads of private corporations and colleges have research and industrial reactors. The Wikipedia has a list – pretty long one too. Most of them don’t produce power, and are used for scientific research.

        I’m not shocked that Kodak would have one. It’s hard to imagine now, but they were HUGE back in the day, and the government going to them for special photosensitive emulsions and x-ray technologies isn’t that unreasonable. And then loads of benign, consumer related tests – how new film handles radition at various wavelengths, covering everything from medical tests to your camera being x-rayed at the airport.

  2. shepd says:

    Photography paper played a significant role in discovering X-Rays. It isn’t a surprise that photography plays a role in nuclear energy.

  3. Nyall says:

    Now I want a californium neutron flux multiplier!

    • Shinchan - Please assume that all of my posts are sarcastic unless indicated otherwise says:

      I heard you can use it as a poor man’s flux capacitor…

    • chizu says:

      It’s a lop!

      (And beyond that, I have nothing more to contribute.)

    • YouDidWhatNow? says:

      Who doesn’t. My californium neutron flux subtracter is just…well, it won’t even multiply. Just subtracts. What a drag.

  4. Hi_Hello says:

    that’s neat.

  5. dolemite says:

    “Try to understand: this is a high voltage laser containment system. Simply turning it off would be like dropping a bomb on the city.”

  6. El_Fez says:

    Momma don’t take my uranium-238 away!

  7. MrMagoo is usually sarcastic says:

    As long as they came by it legally, and they haven’t sold it to Libyan terrorists, why should Kodak have to justify it to us?

    • crispyduck13 says:

      Didn’t know anyone was holding a nuclear reactor to their heads forcing a justification.

      Sounds like a statement issued to address documents which were recently released.

  8. Zowzers says:

    Makes perfect sense why they had it. They were working on neutron imaging, so needed a neutron emitting source.

    really neat actually.

  9. RandomLetters says:

    Who doesn’t have a nuclear reactor in thier basement these days? I use mine to power my rail gun.

  10. SPOON - now with Forkin attitude says:

    you obviously don’t want to know what’s going on in Schenectady.

  11. gman863 says:

    If it didn’t leak, how can I explain why the side of my family who lives in Rochester is so dysfunctional?

  12. stopNgoBeau says:

    Weapons grade? That’s rather odd. Most reactors have much lower purity of fissionable materials. Otherwise, it might, you know, go boom if a runaway reaction were to occur.

  13. j2.718ff says:

    Definitely misleading. At first, I thought this was a new discovery – that someone uranium in the basement and forgot about it. And what’s this “much less in a post-9/11 world” — since the reactor was apparently purchased in 1974.

  14. Gehasst says:

    wow, Gizmodo had this up this morning. Someone is really slacking at their jobs today. Winner would be Mary Beth!

    • Blueskylaw says:

      With so many other great posts to publish, this story
      had to be pushed down to the bottom of the pile.

  15. Costner says:

    What a coincidence… my californium neutron flux multiplier presents no risk to the public either.

    Who knew?

  16. Wheels17 says:

    Please, let’s not get crazy about this. It wasn’t going to go “boom”. It was a small amount and wasn’t used to generate heat. It was used, in concert with californium, to create a neutron beam for analytical purposes.

    A hockey puck, made of uranium, would weigh about 4 3/4 lbs, and this unit used 3 1/2 lbs.
    The bare-sphere critical mass for the weapons grade isotope of uranium(235) is 52 kilograms, or over 100 lbs., so this wasn’t even close. The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle web site has an article about the “reactor”.

    It also wasn’t a secret. Anyone involved with the analytical community at the time knew that it was there, and that population includes literally thousands of people. When they pulled it out, homeland security staked the plant out for the better part of a week(imagine a fleet of blacked out SUVs scattered around the building just sitting there idling for 24 hours a day, with two guys in each one).

  17. kathygnome says:

    There are a lot of small research reactors, it’s not a big deal.

  18. MCerberus says:

    Real story:business follows proper procedures to handle something potentially unsafe in a safe manner.

  19. Blueskylaw says:

    “Nothing ever leaked, and Eastman Kodak Co. officials swear the device was perfectly safe”

    Until of course it becomes unsafe.

    • gman863 says:

      The first sign would have been a few million rolls of fresh film shipping out, already exposed from the gamma rays.

  20. Jane_Gage says:

    Uranyl nitrate was once used as a photographic salt before silver halides. Kodak used a uranium-based toner until 1950.

  21. StevePierce says:

    Can I buy it at the bankruptcy sale?

  22. Michael Belisle says:

    The worry is that as little as 100 pounds of highly enriched uranium and some rudimentary knowledge is sufficient to make a crude but effective nuclear explosive, Pomper said.

    Oh no! One of the only non-governmental sources of highly enriched uranium could have gotten them 4% of the way to the goal. What if they had acquired Kodak’s 3.5 pounds of uranium, and then found the other 96 pounds they need lying around? The horror!

    • Rachacha says:

      But think of the children, and a terrorist who for the last 30 years has managed to acquire 95 lbs of the stuff and manages to purchase Kodak’s stash. They would be only 1.5 pounds away from nuclear war!!!!!!!!! Where is Jack Bauer when you need him!

      • Happy Tinfoil Cat says:

        I don’t know where they get the 100 pounds number since critical mass is 15kg, size of an orange.

        • Blow a fuse? I can fix that... says:

          Perhaps from the fact that the critical mass is 52kg of the uranium isotope (U-235, aka “weapons grade uranium”) they most likely had access to. Yes, there is another isotope (U-233) that has a much lower critical mass, but it isn’t in widespread use and only a couple tons have been produced in the US, so it’s highly unlikely that Kodak used U-233 in their reactor.

  23. MrObvious says:

    Obviously, our sanctions against Kodak are not working.

  24. lovemypets00 - You'll need to forgive me, my social filter has cracked. says:

    I think this is pretty cool.

  25. Actionable Mango says:

    Also in the news, Iran looks to hire laid-off Kodak employees.

  26. StopGougingMeThere! says:

    My sister runs a testing lab at Kodak (she’s a 31 year veteran and one of the last ones left in the testing labs) and I’ll have to ask her about it. In fact, I might have to see if she has flippers for feet the next time she has a pool party at her house.

  27. RickScarf says:

    Hopefully they at least disabled the VX module before removing it from their facility, although something that old was probably only operating in the .1 delta range

  28. Libertas says:

    But can their stockpile be stolen by a 17 year old high school student, using Palmolive, and glitter?

  29. Mollyg says:

    It is a californium neutron flux multiplier, not a nuclear reactor. It could not go critical. There is a Cf-252 source which emits neutrons which cause fission in the uranium and creates more neutrons, but it is not sustainable. If your remove the Cf-252 all the neutrons go away. It is useful for providing a steady neutron flux, but not as high as a research reactor.
    End story: Harmless.

    • TheSpatulaOfLove says:

      Well, dammit! You took all the sensationalism out of that with facts.

      *sigh* – I guess I’ll head over to FauxNews to get a more titillating version of this story that doesn’t let intelligent people post and leads me to believe that Kodak was in it to destroy the world!!!!


  30. zegron says:

    Look, a nuclear reactor doesn’t have a ‘make weapons grade uranium’ button on it. you have to refine it with multiple huge warehouses of other equipment that only governments can have. get your facts straight Consumerist. stupid and irresponsible…

    Have you seen the thing? its TINY.

  31. AgostoBehemoth says:

    well then, it should’ve been publicized back when it would’ve been news.

  32. quail says:

    Kind of a non-story here, other than being fascinating for historical purposes. An even better story would be one on the actual power producing/research reactors that are scattered around at different colleges & universities. My state university has one, used to be down a long wooded road. Google maps has seen fit to have removed the cooling tower from it from images. Lots of kids had some great sex along that unused road.

  33. chevale says:

    Nuclear reactor in Kodak’s basement . . . I have a sudden urge to re-read Catch-22.

  34. zantafio says:

    And yet here is the headline on CNN:
    “Kodak confirms it had weapons-grade uranium in underground lab”

    And this, ladies and gentlemen, is your news media….

  35. Press1forDialTone says:

    Hands off Kodak!
    They have produced more things of value to the world
    than all the financial companies put together.
    Anyway, they are having troubles and I for one hope they
    survive and thrive. Yes, they didn’t get into digital as fast as
    they should have but every roll of film and every hard product
    that I have ever purchased from Kodak has been of the highest
    quality and I have InstaMatic cameras that although incredibly
    cheap at purchase still are capable of making pictures if the
    film and flashcubes (talk about NeatO!) were available.