US Government Loses a Nuclear Rod in TexasYou know how you occasionally misplace your keys or important documents? Well, the government has just had one of those moments. But instead of keys, they misplaced a nuclear rod. And rather than losing it for a few hours at most, the nuclear fuel rod has been missing for over a week.
NRC Image of Fuel Pellets ready for Fuel Assembly completion
The 7-inch rod was reported lost by Halliburton on September 11th, after a three man geological survey crew drove from a site near Pecos to another south of Odessa. That's a 130 mile stretch. Nuclear rods like this are used to identify oil and gas deposits in wells.
Fortunately, the FBI have concluded that there was no criminal activity involved with the loss of the rod. Likely it was one of the three crew members who just happened to misplace it. In addition, rods like this one pose comparatively little risk. The Americium-241/beryllium mixture is radioactive, but not enough to be turned into a weapon. Even when found, the National Guard is only instructing people to stay 25 feet back from it. Americium-241 is actually quite common--if your home has a fire alarm, you have some, too. The americium-241 is only there to encourage the beryllium to shed neutrons, however, which is far more serious. But the actual amount of radiation we're talking about here is still tiny. A crew incompetent enough to lose a nuclear rod was allowed to handle it, after all.
The real danger here seems to be an economic one. If this rod gets mixed in with other common metals, melted down, and sent out to make car frames, well, that entire batch of metal must be scrapped. This has happened before. An incident in Florida cost $25 million to fix.
So the rod really doesn't pose much of a threat. But let's be honest: the fact that a nuclear rod was lost in the first place is terrifying enough. You'd think they would known to hold on tight to those things.