is one of the nation’s iconic brands, forever associated with camera
equipment, photographic film, and related materials and services. The
idea of capturing a “Kodak moment” is a familiar one to many Americans,
especially those of a certain age.
in Rochester, N.Y., and known more formally as the Eastman Kodak Co.,
its origins date to 1889, when George Eastman founded the firm. In
recent years, Kodak has sought to keep pace with changing consumer
demand by transforming itself into a digitally oriented company and, as
part of this shift, has made a number of changes.
was against this backdrop that the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
newspaper reported in early May that Kodak had, for more than three
decades, operated a small nuclear research reactor, unbeknownst to the
public. More about that last part in a moment.
one element of the story that needs clarifying is that the device –
known by the elegant name of Californium Flux Multiplier – was a
“reactor.” In the truest sense of the word, it did not qualify as one.
the Kodak device, which was decommissioned and removed in 2007, made
use of plates containing highly enriched uranium, it was incapable of
sustaining the fissioning, or splitting, of atoms. In nuclear power
reactors, atoms are fissioned to release large amounts of heat that can
then be tapped to produce power for the grid.
unique piece of equipment was used to conduct chemical and radiological
analyses on manufacturing processes. It also was used to investigate
new chemicals and explore new technologies that might be of interest to
any of the company’s various operating divisions.
uranium contained in the Californium Flux Multiplier was in the form of
fuel plates clad in aluminum alloy. The plates formed a sub-critical
(or below the point of fissioning) assembly that surrounded a Cf-252 (Cf
stands for Californium) source. The U-235 (U stands for uranium) fuel
was able to multiply the neutrons coming from the Cf-252 source, which
device was designed to remain always sub-critical, but it nevertheless
yielded sufficient neutrons for neutron activation analysis.
the Californium Flux Multiplier was shut down, all of the fuel plates
were removed from the facility and transferred back to the U.S.
Department of Energy in late November 2007.
even though media outlets might use the shorthand reference of
“reactor” to refer to the device, in this case a reactor by any other
name is not a reactor.
Democrat and Chronicle reported that it learned of the device from a
Kodak employee and emphasized the lack of public awareness regarding it
over its many years of operation. But a lack of awareness should not be
confused with an effort to keep information about the Californium Flux
Multiplier under wraps.
Indeed, a quick check of the NRC’s web site yields numerous documents regarding
the device. One area of exception would be details related to security,
including shipments of the special nuclear materials used in the
device. There are thousands of NRC-licensed devices containing nuclear
materials in use across the U.S. Some, it could be said, are easier to
picture than others.