The company that gave us the Instamatic has acknowledged that for 30 years it operated a small nuclear reactor in a basement on its corporate campus in Rochester, New York, unbeknown to almost everyone save a few scientists and engineers.

Kodak, which began operating the device, called a californium neutron flux multiplier (CFX), in 1974, insists it was safe.

Nonetheless, it came pre-loaded with nearly 1.5kg of uranium enriched up to a level of 93.4 per cent, which is just about right for an atomic warhead. The size of a fridge, the device was kept in a basement behind 0.5m-thick concrete walls and was operated remotely.

While Kodak apparently did not deliberately seek to keep its existence a secret - it claims it was mentioned at least twice in published company research - it did not exactly advertise it either. Seemingly neither the authorities in Rochester nor state-wide knew it was there.

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"It's such an odd situation because private companies just don't have this material," Miles Pomper, a senior research associate at the Centre for Nonproliferation Studies in Washington DC, told the Democrat and Chronicle, the Rochester newspaper which carried the first report about the reactor.

Kodak "decommissioned" its in-house reactor under federal Government supervision in 2007 and the uranium was sent to a safe site in California.

For more than three decades it had been used by a tiny cadre of staff to help test chemicals for impurities and perform neutron radiography, a form of imaging.

Kodak insists it did away with its unusual piece of kit because it had found cheaper and easier ways to perform the same tasks. It had nothing to do with security fears, the company said.

- Independent