Jeffrey LewisKAERI Loses Uranium

I didn’t know the University of California ran KAERI, too:

The Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute (KAERI) is having a hard time searching for 2.7 kilograms of uranium sent to an incinerator by accident in May.

The state-run institute learned of the grave mistake on Aug. 6 and formed a task force to find the material that had drawn the attention of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Included in the missing material are 1.9 kilograms of natural uranium and 0.8 kilograms of depleted uranium as well as 0.2 grams of enriched uranium, which is still being investigated by the IAEA.

“Uranium doesn’t burn. So the uranium in question should remain intact at the waste dump. Our staff members will look hard for it,” a KAERI spokesman said.

For those of you interested in KAERI and its, um, administrative issues, I recommend South Korea’s Nuclear Surprise by Jungmin Kang, Peter Hayes, Li Bin, Tatsujiro Suzuki, Richard Tanter and a bag of locusts.


  1. Haninah (History)

    Hmm. “Uranium doesn’t burn,” eh?

    “The National Fire Protection Association has not assigned a flammability rating to uranium or the insoluble uranium compounds. Other sources rate uranium in solid or powder form as a very dangerous fire hazard when this substance is exposed to heat or open flame.”

    They may have a bigger problem on their hands than they’re admitting.

  2. Jeffrey Lewis (History)

    Yup, I was thinking that myself.

    I want a copy of “Pyrophoricity of uranium” by H.B. Peacock (1992). The abstract reads:

    Uranium metal is pyrophoric and is capable of self-ignition in air provided conditions are favorable. Based on the data in this report, spontaneous ignition of spherical particles larger than 1/16 inch in diameter would not be expected to occur in air at room temperature (25 [degree] C). The rate at which the uranium surface oxidizes in air, balanced against the rate at which the heat of reaction is lost to the surroundings, determines whether spontaneous ignition can occur. Heat loss to the surrounding environment depends on the thermal conductivity of the uranium including the oxide coating, and on the temperature gradient. The ignition temperature for uranium metal particles is a function of particle geometry, size or specific surface area, heating rate gas composition as well as the quantity and distribution of powder within a storage container. The most important variable; however, affecting the ignition temperature for single samples was found by Schnizlein and Bingle to be the specific surface area (surface area per gram) of the uranium particles. The ignition temperatures calculated from ANL data for 1/16, 1/4, and 1/2 inch diameter spherical particles are 333, 375, and 399 [degree] C, respectively. The accuracy is believed to be about [plus minus] 10%, which is based on theoretical and experimental results.

    It is my sense that most “waste incinerators” operate at temperatures in excess of 400 degrees centrigrade, although I am having some trouble finding information about the incinerators in the area — other than the fact that the spew dioxin. I would be surprised if the health effects were significant, but that’s an uneducated guess.

  3. Allen Thomson (History)

    So is the danger here that the uranium will be converted into UOx smoke and be inhaled downwind of the incinerator? If so, some of the studies of the health hazards of DU munitions might provide insight as to just what the degree of risk is. (I doubt it’s much, but it would be worth checking.)

  4. yale

    Normal uranium emissions from coal plants, nuclear fuel cycle facilities, ceramic factories, fertilizer plants, building material plants, and other sources infinitely dwarf this accident.

    A sign of sloppy operations yes, but at least it wasn’t plutonium 238 or polonium 210.

    Yale Simkin