The myth of plutonium

For years we have been told that the plutonium is one of the most dangerous substances found.
This has been repeated so many times that it has developed to be an undeniable truth.

Ralph Nader, is a noted activist and lawyer.
He was a candidate for the presidentiancy in USA’s in 1996 og 2000.
He once claimed that plutonium was “The most toxic substance known to mankind.”
The Danish anti-nuclear organisation OOA claimed that only one atom of plutonium may cause cancer.



In the following I will show that these claims have very little hold in reality


There are 21 different isotopes of plutonium, which chemically behave alike.
In nuclear respect they behave very differently.
All these isotopes are radioactive, and are produced in one way or another.
The two most important are:

  • Pu239, which has a half life of 24,100 years.
    This highly publicized isotope can be used for nuclear bombs and as fuel in nuclear reactors.
  • Pu240 has a high probability for spontaneous fission and is an unwanted contamination if one wants to make nuclear bombs.
    Les than 7% Pu240 is still “wepons grade”

Both these isotopes are formed during the normal operation of nuclear reactors.
The dangerous reactor at Chernobyl was intended to make both power and wepons grade Pu239
Outside the old Soviet, wepons grade of Pu239 is produced on small special reactors.


Plutonium can damage in different ways:
– Biological, as an ordinary toxin.
– Radiology, as a result of ionizing radiation.
– In connection with an accident – A so-called Criticality.
– And of course, in connection with nuclear bombs,

Biological, as an ordinary poison.

From Atomic Insights I refer the following:
During the Manhattan Project in 1944 and 1945, 26 men accidentally ingested plutonium in amounts that far exceeded what is often considered to be a lethal dose.
There has been much interest in the health effects of this new substance.
Therefore, these men were carefully watched for medical studies.
And then: Forty years later:
In 1987, more than four decades later, only four of these workers had died, and there was only one death caused by cancer.
The expected number of deaths in a sample of men with age as those in the group is 10.
The expected number of deaths from cancer in a similar group is between two and three.

It should be considered important to note that at least 22 men have been able to live more than 40 years after taking “the most toxic substance known to man.”

If plutonium is absorbed, it will be up-concentrated in the kidneys and may, as with all heavy metals, cause damage.

Radiological influence

First, I will highlight that in the case of a half-life of 24,100 years, the radiological effects will be spread over a long time correspondingly.
Unlike ordinary misinformation this will mean that the instantaneous impact is little.
It thus means that about 90% of the plutonium absorbed, it will
‘just naturally’ be deposited on the cemetery long before it will cause any harm.

Naturally occurring radium is about 200 times more radioactive than plutonium.
More about the (lack of) connection between radiation and cancer: See another post:
For the record I will mention that the human organism contains so much natural radioactivity that we, every second, are exposed to over 4,000 radioactive decays.


If enough plutonium assembled, we will get a nuclear reaction that, despite horror stories, will cause less damage than by detonation of an ordinary hand-grenade.
See about Cecil Kelley.

Plutonium for nuclear bombs

Unlike ordinary misinformation is not that straightforward to use plutonium for nuclear bombs.
Besides needing enough plutonium of weapons-grade, it is necessary to have a very special initiator together with a very complicated geometry.
For details I refer to a rather messy page:

How much is absorbed?

According to Wikipedia more than 99% of what is ingested through the digestive system, it will just naturally be deposited on the toilet.
If it is taken up as dust through the lungs, much more will be absorbed.

There has been several (irresponsible ?) attempts to see how the human body reacts to plutonium:
As far as can be seen, there was no (serious) injuries.


It is easy to see that plutonium is far from being “the most dangerous substance known.”

The old myth about just one atom of plutonium can cause cancer
Yes this, together with so much else, it should be hunted back to where it belongs
As the goast in the bottle.

Perhaps more significantly, it can be seen that all this counterfeit “information” about an enormous hazard
Yes it puts the sources’ credibility on a very severe test.

Greetings and good reflection
Thorkil Søe

As so much misleading information flows effortlessly in the debate, I refer to the following:
Especially on Chernobyl:
Especially on Fukushima:
And Greenpeace’s Credabillity is a Myth.