Idaho State University loses gram of weapons-grade plutonium, faces fine

Idaho State University has lost 1 gram of weapons-grade plutonium — nuclear material that was being used for research purposes before it was misplaced, the Associated Press reports. In response, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has proposed an $8,500 fine against the university.

An NRC spokesperson, Victor Dricks, said that the amount of material was too small to create a nuclear weapon, but said it could be used in a dirty bomb meant to spread the radioactive substance. The university’s VP of research, Dr. Cornelis Van der Schyf, blamed incomplete record keeping for the loss, reiterating that the lost material poses no risk to the public.

“Unfortunately, because there was a lack of sufficient historical records to demonstrate the disposal pathway employed in 2003, the source in question had to be listed as missing,” he told the AP. “The radioactive source in question poses no direct health issue or risk to public safety.”

The discrepancy was discovered by a school employee during the course of a routine inventory investigation. The employee found that the university could not account for one of its 14 samples of plutonium. Records from 2003  indicate that the material was on the campus and had been marked for disposal. There are no records to indicate that the disposal took place, however.

The last known record of the missing plutonium comes from November 23, 2003, which states that it had been marked “pending disposal of the next waste shipment.”

School officials reviewed documents relating to waste barrels that had been shipped off campus but found no trace of the plutonium. A search of the campus also yielded no results — forcing the university to conclude that it was missing.

The material in question was being used by the university’s nuclear engineering program, which partners with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory. The university was researching means of ensuring that containers of nuclear waste did not leak as well as ways to better detect the material.

The university has 30 days to dispute the NRC’s proposed fine though it has not indicated whether it will or not. Dricks has said that, overall, the university has a “good record with the NRC.” The missing material is a shame; after all, NASA plans to use nukes to save us all from killer asteroids.

Emerging Tech

Opportunity’s final image is a haunting panorama of the Martian surface

The Opportunity mission to Mars may be no more, but the rover's legacy lives on. Now NASA has released the final image captured by Opportunity, and it's a stunning panorama of the Martian surface.

These are the must-have games that every Xbox One owner needs

More than four years into its life span, Microsoft's latest console is finally coming into its own. From Cuphead to Halo 5, the best Xbox One games offer something for players of every type.
Movies & TV

The best movies on Netflix in March, from Buster Scruggs to Roma

Save yourself from hours wasted scrolling through Netflix's massive library by checking out our picks for the streamer's best movies available right now, whether you're into explosive action, witty humor, or anything else.

These are the classic NES games that helped redefine gaming

The NES left an indelible mark on pop culture and revolutionized the gaming industry. Check out our picks for the best NES games, whether you prefer an immersive RPG, side-scrolling brawler, or something else entirely.
Emerging Tech

We’re going to the red planet! All the past, present, and future missions to Mars

SpaceX isn't the only organization pining to visit the Red Planet. Here's a detailed list of all operational and planned missions to Mars, along with explanations of their objectives, spacecraft details, and mission proposals.
Emerging Tech

A lunar time capsule: 50-year-old moon rock samples to be opened for study

Nearly 50 years after the Apollo missions to the Moon, NASA is breaking open samples of Moon rock for the first time. Samples collected from Apollo missions 15, 16, and 17 have been preserved and never before exposed to Earth's atmosphere.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Write music with your voice, make homemade cheese

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Emerging Tech

Gorgeous image of the Cosmic Bat nebula leaves us starry-eyed

The "Cosmic Bat" nebula has been captured in beautiful detail by the European Southern Observatory. Formally known as NGC 1788, the nebula is two thousand light-years away in a dark corner of the Orion constellation.
Emerging Tech

Super telescope captures supermassive black holes forming billions of years ago

The Subaru Telescope in Hawaii has captured evidence of supermassive black holes forming in the ancient universe. Astronomers discovered 83 quasars powered by supermassive black holes from billions of years ago.
Emerging Tech

Mind-bending model shows Venus isn’t our nearest neighbor — it’s Mercury

Every textbook and table on the internet agrees -- the closest planet to Earth is Venus. But a new mathematical model shows that this is wrong. In fact, the planet closest to us on average is Mercury.
Emerging Tech

Desk lamps take on a new task by converting their light to power

What if we could charge devices using light from indoor sources like desk lamps? A group of scientists working on a technology called organic photovoltaics (OPVs) aim to do just that.
Emerging Tech

Body surrogate robot helps people with motor impairments care for themselves

A team from Georgia Tech has come up with an assistant robot to help people who have severe motor impairments to perform tasks like shaving, brushing their hair, or drinking water.
Emerging Tech

New Hubble image displays dazzling Messier 28 globular cluster

Messier 28 is a group of stars in the constellation of Sagittarius, located 18,000 light-years from our planet. Thousands of stars are packed tightly together in this sparkling image.
Emerging Tech

Cosmic dust bunnies: Scientists find unexpected ring around Mercury

A pair of scientists searching for a dust-free region near the Sun have made an unexpected discovery: a vast cosmic dust ring millions of miles wide around the tiny planet Mercury.