US. Nuclear Corporation in Burbank California had a problem, without any authorization they decided to try to remove the outer casing of a Plutonium Beryllium device that produced Neutrons, a DEMON CORE that was used for training in the US Navy for sailors to train to find atomic bombs and this training was on every ship and base including at Treasure Island.
They placed the core onto a Lathe which is used to spin wood or metal to make rounded cuts into objects, just as if you were to make a staircase knob, you cut into it as it spins to make rounded objects. So naturally they decided to do this with the most dangerous thing in the world a Demon Core of Plutonium and Beryllium.
When the Atomic Energy Commission was tipped off about this incident by an anonymous source they came into the facility where the US Nuclear Corporation employees had just bought an industrial vacuum cleaner to clean up the site. They also failed to mention the accident to the AEC as required by law (see below)
Yeah that would not cut it.
The Demon Core was made popular in the movie “Fat Man and Little Boy” which combined two separate incidents where the scientists at Los Alamos were showing off and caused fission to take place killing in each case the show off scientist. It should be noted that spinning plutonium at high speed is not something that you want to do.
The Pu-Be core was made with pellets of Plutonium and the Berylium reflects the neutrons so you can create measured levels of neutron radiation, the radiation of fission found in nuclear reactors and atomic bombs. The US Navy Radiological Defense Lab had two of these devices as of 1960 which were about the size of a casing for a old movie projector and they used it to bombard ships with it to see how far into a ship the neutron radiation would penetrate, in order to make ships safer. When they turned it on they made sure everyone was in a separate building in shielding to protect themselves from the radiation. Not the public, just them. It is the same radiation found in a nuclear power plant or a nuclear detonation.
US Nuclear Corporation decided all on their own without any authorization to divide up the Plutonium into smaller amounts to make more devices.
They did this in their machine shop which was not part of the nuclear area of the building and of course they accidentally cut into the inner casing and plutonium came out and spread all over the three people working there and the building and up to 2 miles of Burbank centered on the site address 801 North Lake Street, Burbank CA. they spread it all over their car and into their homes.
Someone tipped off the Atomic Energy Commission that this happened and they came in and took over the facility. The company failed to inform the AEC of the incident which is against the law.
The following is from the main report although there are other reports on the health effects where the person who actually did the cutting was exposed to 12 full body doses of radiation while the other two were less than a full body dosage meaning they could not work in radiation ever again if they survived.
Partially deleted compliance investigation rept for license SNM-1002 on 680128-30.Items of noncompliance noted. Major areas investigated: type A exposure to personnel & shutdown of facility from Plutonium 238 release on 680118.
“REASON FOR INVESTIGATION
An anonymous telephone call was received by Region V on January 22, 1968. The caller reported extensive contamination at the licensee’s facility, caused by cutting into a source capsule. It was decided to conduct an investigation
SUMMARY OF FACTS
On January 18, 1968, the active portion of a 35-curie Pu-Be neutron source was cut Into when two licensed employees attempted to remove its outer encapsulation. The operation was performed in a clean, open machine shop area on the licensee’s premises with no provision for containment of the contamination, and with inadequate health and safety procedures. The incident resulted in extensive contamination to the operating portion of the facility, machine shop, and the shipping dock, as well as spotty contamination throughout the office area of the facility, the roof top of the building and sidewalks in the vicinity of the building. Contamination was picked up on employees’ shoes, cars, and clothing and was tracked to three of their homes. Although plutonium contamination was exhausted through a forced air vent in the roof to the outside of the facility, there was no alpha contamination in air samples collected at a State sampling station two miles distant. Vegetation and soil samples taken within a two-block radius of the plant showed no significant dispersion of alpha activity to the environment. One licensee employee who cut into the capsule ingested by aspiration between 150 and 230 Nano curies of Pu-238, as determined by whole body counting. This represents approximately 12 lung burdens. The health physicist and two other persons involved received less than one lung burden each as determined by whole body counting. An AEC medical consultant assisted the licensee’s physician in evaluating the exposures. Publicity consisted of one factual local news story resulting from a release made by the licensee. Items of noncompliance determined during the investigation, all of which contributed to or were caused by the incident, are as follows:
10 CFR 20.403(a) and (b) – Reporting Requirements
- in that the licensee did not notify the Atomic Energy Commission either immediately or within 24 hours, although the loss of the facility was for more than a week (see paragraph 3. Details).
License No. SNM 1002 – Authorized Use
The licensee performed operations not authorized by the license in that, plutonium-beryllium sources were fabricated in quantity greater than the 12 authorized under the license and in strength different from the 400-curie sources authorized by the license (see paragraphs I, 2, 17, and 44, Details)
- in that a location in a machine shop area, not authorized by the license was used for work on a plutonium source (see paragraphs 11, 13 and 18. Details).
- in that a cutting operation, not authorized by the license, was performed on the source (see paragraphs 1, 9, and 10. Details).
- in that U. S. Nuclear administrative procedures submitted by USN application letter of March 22, 1967, were not followed in regard to the specific responsibilities of the corporate Radiological Safety Officer (see paragraphs 6 and 46. Details).
10 CFR 20.201(b) – Surveys
- in that surveys, i.e., adequate evaluations of radiation hazards, were not made incident to the use of radioactive materials. Most of the evaluations subsequent to the incident were made at the insistence of the AEC investigators (see paragraphs 8,10, 36, 37, 40, and 41, Details).
10 CFR 20.401 – Records of Surveys
- in that no records of surveys were made of the radiation exposures of the individuals involved in the Pu-238 incident (see paragraph 21 Details).
10 CFR 10.103(a) – Exposure of Individuals
-in that the licensee used licensed material in such a manner that individuals in restricted areas were cause to be exposed to airborne Pu-238 concetration in excess of Part 20 limits (see paragraphs 30, and 37, Details).
10 CFR 20.401 0 Records of Surveys
in that no records of air sample surveys had been maintained by the licensee of oeprations conducted prior to the incident, but subsequent to the AEC inspection of December, 1967 ( see paragraph 21, Details).”