A bottle discarded at a waste site in the US contains the oldest sample of bomb-grade plutonium made in a nuclear reactor, scientists say. The sample dates to 1944 and is a relic from the infancy of the US nuclear weapons programme.
The researchers have described their study as “nuclear archaeology”. The bottle in question was discovered in a burial trench at the Hanford nuclear site in Washington state, north-western US.
The sample produced at the Hanford site was used in Trinity – the world’s first nuclear weapon test – on 16 July 1945 and in the plutonium bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, on 10 August 1945.
The Hanford site is now the focus of a massive environmental cleanup effort due to high levels of radioactive waste that remain at the site.
The types of forensic techniques used in the study are also vital for determining the sources, origins and routes of smuggled radioactive materials.
Finds like this never surprise me. They need more sharp folks working around the national labs who recognize the need for historic record-keeping – including samples like this.