About $23,000 worth of customized copper parts are missing from a building at the Department of Energy’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory and are presumed to have been stolen. Although the parts are very slightly radioactive, they pose no threat to health or to the environment. Fermilab officials are trying to recover the property.
The copper parts had been temporarily removed from Fermilab’s accelerator complex and placed in storage in a service building with restricted access. The parts include various large-diameter (12-inch) elbow joints and inner bellows with connectors, all components of the radiofrequency modules in Fermilab’s particle accelerators. Because the parts are custom-made to meet Fermilab’s special requirements, the parts are valuable to the Laboratory. However, the street value of the copper content is only about $250, according to local scrap metal dealers. Fermilab officials believe the parts were stolen sometime in the last two weeks.
The missing parts are very slightly radioactive, emitting less than 0.02 millirem per hour of radiation for a person standing one foot away. Consequently, they pose no risk to human health or to the environment. For comparison, a commercial plane flight exposes an individual to about one millirem of radiation per hour, 50 times that level.
“While these materials do not constitute a health hazard, we’re making efforts to recover them because of their value and as part of our policy of controlling all materials labeled radioactive,” said Bruce Chrisman, associate director for administration at Fermilab.
Components of Fermilab’s accelerators become slightly radioactive in the process of normal accelerator operations. These levels, which are constantly monitored by Fermilab staff, are well within state and federal limits.
Fermilab has notified local county law enforcement officials of the loss of the property. The U.S. Department of Energy, which funds the Laboratory, has notified the Illinois Department of Nuclear Safety.
Anyone with information about the possible whereabouts of the copper parts is asked to contact Fermilab’s Public Affairs Office at 630-840-5681.
Fermilab is operated by Universities Research Association Inc. under contract with the U.S. Department of Energy.