Plutonium Risks To Health

Plutonium is a radioactive isotope that is produced inside a nuclear reactor. Plutonium that was released into the environment during the nuclear accidents at Fukushima Daiichi can be extremely dangerous. Plutonium-239 is produced from the decay of Uranium-239 and has at least 15 different isotopes (most common Pu-238, 240, 241, 242) all of which are radioactive and have varying half lifes (Pu-239 is highest at over 24000 years). All of these plutonium isotopes can be dangerous if they enter the body.

Two major concerns with plutonium is that it is highly toxic even in small amounts and if retained by the body can remain for many years. Plutonium-239 gives off dangerous alpha particle emissions while plutonium-241 gives of beta particle emissions. When plutonium 241 decays it turns into americium 241 that gives off gamma emissions. Each of these particles can enter the body and the gamma particle emissions are dangerous even from outside the body as they can penetrate.

Plutonium exposure external to the body poses very little risk but once inside the body by ingestion or inhalation it can have increased health risks. The skeleton and liver are at most risk in internal exposure as plutonium will accumulate there. This can result in cancers of the liver or bone cancers. Inhaled plutonium can increase the risk of lung cancer.

Ingestion allows only a percentage of the plutonium ingested to enter the blood stream, though the plutonium that gets passed through the intestinal tract continues to emit radiation inside the body during that time. Inhalation of plutonium seems to be dependent on the size of the particles. If the particles are large they can be caught by nose hair. Smaller particles can enter into the lungs.

In an experiment on beagles, plutonium in the lungs had a high probability of causing lung cancer. While these numbers can be extrapolated over to humans, there is some room for difference depending on the species. Dogs are frequently used as test subjects for cancer research.

The problem is that a person who has internal plutonium contamination will be subjected to the effects of those radioactive emissions in that area of the body for the rest of their life. The plutonium particles have a long biological half life of 200 years so they are emitting radiation for the rest of the person’s life.  Studies have also shown that small amounts of plutonium can cause genetic damage.

Plutonium can:

  • Cause dangerous bodily contamination even in small amounts
  • Be ingested in foods & water or inhaled when the particles are fine
  • Stay in the body emitting dangerous radiation
  • Lodge in the bones, liver and lungs
  • Cause cancer, genetic mutations and other illnesses even in small amounts
  • Continue to be dangerous for centuries; the most common kind has a half life of 24,100 years


Much thanks to Radioguy, Bobby1, Dean, Ariadne and all the members who contributed to this article.

プルトニウムは原子炉の内部で生成された放射性同位体である。福島第一での原子力事故時に環境中に放出されたプルトニウムは、非常に危険です。プルトニウム239はウラン239の崩壊から生成され、放射性であると半分静物画を(PU – 239は、以上で最も高くなる変化しているすべてが、少なくとも15の異なる同位体(最も一般的なプルトニウム- 238、240、241、242)を有している24000年)。彼らは体内に入る場合は、これらのプルトニウム同位体のすべてが危険なことができます。








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