A typical 1000 MW nuclear power reactor contains within its uranium fuel load several hundred kilograms of plutonium. Fukushima Daiichi No. 3 is a 784 MW reactor.
Plutonium-239 has a half-life of 24,100 years.
External exposure to plutonium poses very little health risk, since plutonium isotopes emit alpha radiation, and almost no beta or gamma radiation.
Ingestion is not a significant hazard, because plutonium passing through the gastro-intestinal tract is poorly absorbed and is expelled from the body before it can do harm.
Internal exposure to plutonium is an extremely serious health hazard. It generally stays in the body for decades, exposing organs and tissues to radiation, and increasing the risk of cancer.
The main threat to humans comes from inhalation. While it is very difficult to create airborne dispersion of a heavy metal like plutonium, certain forms are a hazard. If inhaled, much of the material is immediately exhaled. Some however will be trapped and transferred, first to the blood and later to other parts of the body, notably the liver and bones. It is here that the deposited plutonium’s alpha radiation may eventually cause cancer, and generally stays in the body for decades.
Plutonium was dispersed world wide from atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons conducted during the 1950s and ‘60s. Residual plutonium from atmospheric nuclear weapons testing is dispersed widely in the environment. As a result, virtually everyone comes into contact with extremely small amounts of plutonium.
So, how can a survival preparedness minded person add a little bit of insurance for protection against inhaling some stray plutonium (or other particles that tend to attach to dust)?
The best answer is to first put distance between you and the source. Plutonium is heavy and will not travel far unless it has been ejected high into the atmosphere (as was the case during the era of nuclear weapons testing in the atmosphere).
Since alpha particle radiation, like plutonium, will attach itself to dust particles, a logical preventative measure, if one feels threatened, is to minimize the dust in living space. A HEPA Air Purifierwill do just that. Although in a contaminated area the purifier will build up with dust particles that are contaminated, at least they won’t be circulating about in the air within the space.
When it comes time to change the HEPA filter, and if in a contaminated area (e.g. near Fukushima Japan), preventative measures should be taken to not inadvertently inhale particles from the dirty filter during the replacement process.
A HEPA air purifier is NOT the cure-all solution, but will reduce the chances of inhaling contaminated dust particles, since it is a fact that alpha particles DO ATTACH to dust particles.
Note: There currently is no apparent threat regarding plutonium dust outside of the immediate area of Fukushima Japan, due to the MOX fuel at Reactor No. 3. Of bigger concern for those outside the area will be food supply contamination, which will have to be monitored.
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