Plutonium that was accidentally sent to UK given “richter” reading

An inquiry into the accidental transportation of plutonium to the UK from Belgium has given the incident a 2 "reading" on the International Nuclear Events range. A reading of 7 indicates the worst possible nuclear event.

A designation of 2 corresponds to “detection of a source in an inappropriate place”. The full inquiry report will be available by the end of the month.

The incident began on 2 September, when a container thought to be empty but in fact containing plutonium in nitric acid, left the Institute for Reference Materials and Measurements (IRMM) in Geel, Belgium. The container was returned to its manufacturer, Croft Associates in Abingdon, UK, via Luxembourg. The container arrived at Croft on 7 October and routine radiation measurements performed by a Croft engineer led to the discovery of the 0.69g of plutonium.

The material was subsequently moved to the UK Nuclear Research Centre in Harwell.

Initial UK press reports cited bureaucratic failures in Belgium for the mishap.

Following the discovery of the plutonium, an EC inquiry was ordered. The inquiry panel members are:

  • Herbert Allgeier, director general of the EU’s Joint Research Centre
  • Wilhelm Gmelin, director of Euratom Safeguards, Luxembourg
  • Jacques Van Geel, director of the Institute for Transuranium Elements, Karlsruhe
  • Marc Cuypers, head of Safeguards & Verification at the Institute for Systems, Informatics and Safety, Ispra
  • a specialist in the transport of radioactive materials from the International Atomic Energy Association

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