The exciting world of nuclear policy and nuclear-weapons science blogs are positively abuzz — and Lord knows those cats can party! — about the New York Times article reporting that an indictment against a Los Alamos physicist and his wife contains a major factual error that weakens the case.
Filed last week, the indictment alleges that P. Leonardo Mascheroni and his wife Marjorie tried to sell nuclear weapons technology to Venezuela. The part of Venezuela was played by an undercover FBI agent.
Page 8 of the indictment specifies that Dr. Mascheroni told the undercover agent that it would be possible to secretly construct an underground reactor to “enrich plutonium.” Now, any nuclear-powered schoolkid whose frontal lobe hasn’t been irradiated in a criticality accident or who hasn’t recently stuck their head in a particle accelerator knows that in order to enrich plutonium, you’d have to read it Keats or buy it a Jaguar. In fact, plutonium isn’t enriched, it’s created. While Plutonium is technically a primordial element, which means it exists in nature, its most stable isotope does so in such tiny quantities that it is basically undetectable. Plutonium is manufactured from uranium.