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.
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.
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.