Problem

Plutonium pollution

Other Names:
Plutonium poisoning
Overexposure to plutonium
Nature:
Plutonium, a radioactive waste product of nuclear production, is carcinogenic. Even in minute quantities it is highly toxic. It is expensive to secure, chemically unstable and easy to fashion into a crude nuclear device. The plants which manufacture it are aging, and there is possibility that quantities of the element could escape should there be any accident. There is no known use for plutonium other than in weapons and bombs. Uncontrolled pollution coupled with mass destruction arising from the use of plutonium bombs.
Incidence:
A 1,000 megawatt nuclear power plant creates about 200 kg of plutonium in a year. Such reactor grade plutonium would be sufficient to manufacture 47,000 bombs. A number of countries, including the UK, France and Japan, plan to extract the plutonium content from their used uranium fuel.

In 1999, human error was blamed for the temporary loss of a small quantity of plutonium from the nuclear research centre of the European Commission in Geel, Belgium. The plutonium, destined for France, turned up in Britain around one month after it went missing.

Claim:
Tiny quantities of plutonium are instantly fatal. A few hundred grams placed in a municipal water supply would kill hundreds of thousands of people.
Counter Claim:
Plutonium is highly toxic, but hardly the most dangerous material known. Sudden death from radiation poisoning would occur if you ate or swallowed 0.5 grams of plutonium. Other chemicals much easier to obtain can kill at lower levels. Ingesting less than 0.1 gram of cyanide, for instance, is lethal. If three hundred grams of plutonium were dropped into a water supply, most of it would sink, remain in the sediment and not pose an health hazard. Only 3 milligrams would be dissolved and that amount would be unlikely to cause even one additional cancer death.
Values:
Pollution
Problem Type:
E: Emanations of other problems
Date of last update
26.03.2001 – 00:00 CEST