The University of Utah responded Thursday to reports of a student threatening to detonate a nuclear reactor on campus.
On Saturday, Sept. 17, the University of Utah Police Department was notified someone had posted a message on YikYak: “If we don’t win today, I’m detonating the nuclear reactor on campus.”
Police investigated and determined the statement was posted by Meredith Lile Uluave Miller, a 21-year-old engineering student. When the student was interviewed on Wednesday, Sept. 21, she acknowledged posting the statement and was arrested and taken to the Salt Lake County Jail and booked for making terroristic threats.
Although the student said her statement was meant as a joke, University Police Chief Jason Hinojosa notes that Utah law doesn’t distinguish between jokes or terroristic threats that are not attempted or not possible.
“Just don’t do it: Don’t post a threat on social media. We have a zero-tolerance policy for these kinds of threats,” said Chief Jason Hinojosa. “In the age that we’re living in, we have to take every threat seriously.”
Hinojosa noted that the University of Utah’s nuclear reactor is secured and alarmed and police have unique protocols for managing any breach of the facility.
The University of Utah’s 50-year-old nuclear engineering program is housed within the Civil and Environmental Engineering department and performs research in nuclear power, nuclear medicine, nuclear forensics, homeland security, non-proliferation and nuclear detection. Four faculty, one research engineer and a reactor supervisor manage the program. In any given year, approximately 40 to 50 graduate students are enrolled in nuclear engineering.
The reactor is a 100 kW General Atomics TRIGA Mark I design, and uses inherently safe, self-limiting, low enriched uranium TRIGA fuel. It is immersed in a large water tank and is nearly impossible to damage. It is inspected annually by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and adheres to very strict safety and security requirements. All personnel affiliated with the reactor must undergo a background check and routine training and re-qualification.
“The reactor is inherently safe, and it provides a unique vehicle to performing state-of-the-art research in nuclear engineering and technology, and has been so for the past 50 years here in Salt Lake City,” said Glenn Sjoden, director of the Nuclear Engineering Program. “We are fulfilling a vital role in generating human capital for nuclear engineering positions around the nation, and the nuclear reactor is an integral part of that education and training.”
“However, idle threats made to the facility are treated seriously, and we encourage folks to really bear in mind that nuclear facilities are always treated with the utmost respect and safety; therefore, the government and law enforcement will take any action necessary to mitigate any threat made.”