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Speck of Weapons-Grade Uranium Goes Missing in US University - Reports

© Sputnik / Aleksandr Kondratuk / Go to the photo bankOperator putting plutonium dioxide powder in a container for storage and processing using handler.
Operator putting plutonium dioxide powder in a container for storage and processing using handler. - Sputnik International
If terrorists get their hands on a crude nuclear weapon built from radioactive materials, stolen or bought on the black market, the catastrophic consequences could be hard to exaggerate.

One gram’s worth of weapons-grade plutonium-239 has disappeared from Idaho State University, LiveScience wrote, citing a statement by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).

The last time the university took stock of its plutonium supplies    was in 2004, when 14 1-gram specks of the highly radioactive material were triple-bagged in clearly marked protective covers and set aside for disposal.

A severe shortage of plutonium-238, shown here, could force NASA to ax its deep space exploration program. - Sputnik International
Plutonium Production and Shortages Threaten Future NASA Programs
At that point, all mention of the missing plutonium speck was deleted from the university’s database of nuclear materials, which it is required to maintain for NRC inspections. Where it is now remains anyone's guess.

NRC spokesman Victor Dricks admitted he couldn’t confirm that the missing plutonium poses absolutely no threat to the public, but suggested that its “loss” might be due to poor record keeping.

"We suspect that it ended up in a landfill for radioactive materials," he said in an interview with Live Science.

NRC has suggested that Idaho State pay it an $8,500 fine for mishandling radioactive materials and give it back the 13 other plutonium sources for the duration of an ongoing probe. 

READ MORE: Moscow Ready to Consider Renewal of Russia-US Deal on Weapon-Grade Plutonium

A single gram of plutonium-239 is certainly not enough to build a nuclear bomb, but it is still enough to form the radioactive core of a dirty bomb which would pose a major threat if it wound up in the wrong hands.

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