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Plutonium Leaks in Japan: What Are the Real Dangers?

Plutonium Leaks in Japan

What are the real dangers?

Because of the Japan nuclear accidents, many people are reading about and becoming concerned about plutonium. The information below should serve to put your mind at ease about any risk we in the U.S. might have due to plutonium exposure.

Plutonium is a man made element created from uranium and used as a fuel in nuclear power plants.

External exposure to plutonium presents very little risk because it throws off weak alpha radiation that cannot penetrate our skin.

Ingestion of plutonium does not pose much of a risk either, because it passes through our GI tract, is poorly absorbed and is eliminated without doing harm.

Plutonium can be dangerous when it is inhaled and therefore circumvents the GI tract. Then it can remain in our systems for decades, exposing our cells/tissues/organs to radiation and substantial risk of cancer.

The risk of airborne plutonium coming from Japan is almost negligible because of the distance and the fact that plutonium is heavy and will fall to the ground.

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.

How does plutonium get into the environment?

Plutonium was dispersed worldwide from atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons conducted during the 1950s and ‘60s. The fallout from these tests left very low concentrations of plutonium in soils around the world.

Nuclear weapons production and testing facilities (Hanford, WA; Savannah River, GA; Rocky Flats, CO; and The Nevada Test Site, in the United States, and Mayak and Semi Plafinsk in the former Soviet Union), also released small amounts. Some releases have occurred in accidents with nuclear weapons, the reentry of satellites that used Pu-238, and from the Chernobyl nuclear reactor accident.

How does plutonium change in the environment?

All isotopes of plutonium undergo radioactive decay. As plutonium decays, it releases radiation and forms other radioactive isotopes. For example, Pu-238 emits an alpha particle and becomes uranium-234; Pu-239 emits an alpha particle and becomes uranium-235.

This process happens slowly since the half-life of plutonium isotopes tend to be relatively long: Pu-238 has a half-life of 87.7 years; Pu-239 has a half-life is 24,100 years, and Pu-240 has a half-life of 6,560 years. The decay process continues until a stable, non-radioactive element is formed.

How do people come in contact with plutonium?

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.

People who live near nuclear weapons production or testing sites may have increased exposure to plutonium, primarily through particles in the air, but possibly from water as well. Plants growing in contaminated soil can absorb small amounts of plutonium.

How does plutonium get into the body?

People may inhale plutonium as a contaminant in dust. It can also be ingested with food or water. Most people have extremely low ingestion and inhalation of plutonium. However, people who live near government weapons production or testing facilities may have increased exposure. Plutonium exposure external to the body poses very little health risk.

What does plutonium do once it gets into the body?

The stomach does not absorb plutonium very well, and most plutonium swallowed with food or water passes from the body through the feces. When inhaled, plutonium can remain in the lungs depending upon its particle size and how well the particular chemical form dissolves. The chemical forms that dissolve less easily may lodge in the lungs or move out with phlegm, and either be swallowed or spit out. But, the lungs may absorb chemical forms that dissolve more easily and pass them into the bloodstream.

Once in the bloodstream, plutonium moves throughout the body and into the bones, liver, or other body organs. Plutonium that reaches body organs generally stays in the body for decades and continues to expose the surrounding tissue to radiation.

Health Effects of Plutonium:

How can plutonium affect people’s health?

External exposure to plutonium poses very little health risk, since plutonium isotopes emit alpha radiation, and almost no beta or gamma radiation. In contrast, 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. Plutonium is also a toxic metal, and may cause damage to the kidneys.

Is there a medical test to determine exposure to plutonium?

There are tests that can reliably measure the amount of plutonium in a urine sample, even at very low levels. Using these measurements, scientists can estimate the total amount of plutonium present in the body. Other tests can measure plutonium in soft tissues (such as body organs) and in feces, bones, and milk. However, these tests are not routinely available in a doctor’s office because they require special laboratory equipment.

Protecting People from Plutonium

What can I do to protect myself and my family from plutonium?

Since plutonium levels in the environment are very low, they pose little risk to most people. However, people who live near government weapons production or testing sites may have higher exposure.

Plutonium particles in dust are the greatest concern, because they pose the greatest health risk. People living near government weapons facilities can track radiation monitoring data made available by site personnel. If radiation levels rise, they should follow the radiation protection instructions given by site personnel.

What Is Radiation? How Does It Affect My Body?


The earthquake and Tsunami in Japan, potential radiation exposure from the damaged nuclear plants and its potential life-threatening effects has been a hot topic on people’s minds. How does this radiation affect our bodies and is there really anything we can do to protect ourselves.  Partial understanding of an issue can lead to misinformation, confusion and unwarranted conclusions and fears. So we thought we would help you to get a better understanding of exactly what radiation is, what different kinds of radiation exist that we get exposed to, and the potential of each kind of radiation to cause us harm.

What is Radiation?

Radiation is basically the outflow of energy from an emitting source. So, anything from the outflow of energy from our bodies in the form of heat, to electrons from a radioactive source like radioactive iodine, or the heat from the sun, to your cellphone signal, to the signal from a radio station is radiation.

Because the nature, source and energy of these various radiation sources are so vastly different, certain sources are more likely to cause cancer more quickly than others and some may have little or no definitive cancer risk associated with them.

Types of Radiation

The types of radiation that can cause the most damage over the shortest periods of time are the high-energy (high frequency) sources like those from radioactive sources and X-ray machines and perhaps even UV exposure from the sun. These sources are known to cause cancer  if the dose we are exposed to is high enough over time and data indicates that our exposure is probably cumulative, meaning that if we were exposed to the sources multiple times, our risk is the sum of our total exposures not just the latest exposure period.

Lower energy sources like visible light, infrared, microwave, and radio frequency are less likely to cause cancer but it is not known, if constant exposure to even these lower energy sources, is not without risk.  Thus the questions about constant cellphone use.

How Does Radiation Cause Cancer

At least for the higher energy sources of radiation, it is known that they can disrupt the structure of the molecules that make up the cells of our bodies. They do this by removing electrons from the stable, healthy, molecules, thus making them unstable, and threatening the DNA building blocks of our entire bodies.  When DNA is disrupted, cells can replicate inappropriately, thus causing cancerous cells, which can lead to organ dysfunction and possibly death.

The radiation sources that can cause this kind of damage are called “ionizing” radiation sources because they are strong enough to remove electrons from healthy, stable cells, possibly causing them to change to cancerous cells.

The lower energy radiation sources are referred to as “non-ionizing” radiation sources and are much less likely to cause cancer (at least over short periods of time).

The risk that radioactive substances in the air, that have made their way from Japan to the western coast of the U.S, would be in high enough doses and last long enough to cause measurable damage that would lead to cancer, are probably, quite low.

But in the case where a radioactive accident were to occur in the United States, the closer one is to the accident, obviously, the higher the risk.  Then it is very important to know what can be done to protect ourselves from what might be a real risk.

So in the event that we become exposed to high levels of ionizing radiation like those the Japanese are now exposed to, it would make a lot of sense, to implement the following regimen:


  • Consume 2-3 grams a day of vitamin C 
  • Reduce or eliminate alcohol consumption 
  • Decrease meat consumption. Increase fish consumption
  • Reduce sugar consumption
  • Eat five servings a day of fruits and vegetables, especially broccoli, broccoli sprouts, cabbage and cauliflower
  • Increase fiber consumption via whole grains and flax seed fiber
  • Take one drop a day of Lugol’s Solution or 1 tablet a day of Iodoral, both of which are sources of both iodide and iodine (many conventionally trained physicians think that this level of iodine supplementation can interfere with thyroid function, though we do not see this belief supported in the literature, and in fact, this level of iodine supplementation may be very protective against breast and prostate cancer. Furthermore, these levels are lower than the levels of potassium iodide recommended by the government, so obviously there is some kind of disconnect here)
  • Take 5000 IU daily of vitamin D-3

Take 1500 mg daily each of curcumin and green tea extract with a minimum of 30% or more of EGCG

To the Best of Health,

Curt Hendrix, M.S. C.C.N. C.N.S

Everyone at MigreLief is deeply saddened by the tragic events in Japan and our thoughts and prayers go out to the people of Japan, their families, friends and all victims of this terrible tragedy.  In an effort to help, MigreLief will be contributing a portion of this months sales to assist in the relief and recovery efforts.

RECOMMENDED FOR YOU: Radiation and Cancer -What Potassium Iodide Does Not Protect

An Iodine Alternative to Potassium Iodide For Thyroid Protection Against Elevated Radiation Levels

Kelp for Iodine

Consider Your Alternatives to Potassium Iodide (KI) in the Event of Nuclear Exposure and the Possible Unavailability of KI

With so many people around the world and on the West Coast of the United States becoming concerned about the possibility of radiation from Japan, there has been a rush to purchase Potassium Iodide – the supplement that’s recommended to protect our thyroids from absorbing radioactive iodine.  According to sources on the Internet, most supplies of KI are depleted and people are unable to purchase it.

As an alternative, people may want to purchase Lugol’s Solution, which is a combination of pure iodine, Potassium iodide, and water.  One site that sells it is

One milliliter of Lugol’s solution contains 150 mg of iodine an iodide which is slightly more than the 130 mg of KI recommended for adults.  Also, pure iodine can be more toxic than iodide and if taken for too long can negatively affect thyroid function.  But in a radiation emergency and no source of KI available, you may want to discuss with your physician about the option of taking Lugol’s solution, if radiation levels get too high.

There is another interesting option that may serve as an alternative if KI is not available when radiation levels increase.  Swabbing 8ml of 2% iodine solution on your abdomen and/or forearms.  The following research is also an option that you may want to discuss with your physician if you are caught without KI during a period of high air-born radiation:

According to research by Health Physicist Ken Miller, Hershey Medical Center, using 24 healthy adult male subjects, an adult could get a blocking dose of stable iodine by painting 8 ml of a 2 percent tincture of Iodine on the abdomen or forearm approximately 2 hours prior to I-131 contamination. The abstract of his study titled “Effectiveness of Skin Absorption of Tincture of I in Blocking Radioiodine from the Human Thyroid Gland” from Health Physics, June 1989, Vol. 56, No. 6, pages 911-914, states:

“Although there were large variations within each subject group in regard to serum-I levels and thyroid uptakes, the increase in serum-I concentration after topical-I application was effective in reducing the thyroid uptake of I131. The authors conclude that in the absence of KI, most humans would benefit from topical application of tincture of-I, and that in some the effectiveness would equal that of oral KI.”

In an emergency, if no more KI tablets available, you can topically (on the skin) apply an iodine solution, like tincture of iodine or Betadine, for a similar protective effect (WARNING: Iodine is NEVER to be ingested or swallowed and is poison to drink).  For adults, paint 8 ml of a 2 percent tincture of Iodine on the abdomen or forearm each day, ideally at least 2 hours prior to initial exposure. For children 3 to 18, but under 150 pounds, only half that amount painted on daily, or 4 ml.  For children under 3 but older than a month, half again, or 2 ml. For newborns to 1 month old, half it again, or just 1 ml (one measuring teaspoon is about 5 ml, if you don’t have a medicine dropper graduated in ml). If your iodine solution is stronger than 2%, reduce the dosage accordingly. Absorption through the skin is not as exact a dosing method as using the tablets, but tests show that it will still be very effective for most. Do not use if allergic to iodine. There are also a few other medical conditions and medications that are contraindicated that your physician can best advise you about.

Inquire with your doctor NOW if there is any reason why anybody in your household should not use Potassium Iodide (KI), or iodine solutions topically applied on their skin, in a future nuclear emergency, just to be sure. (The preceding paragraph was taken from the website).

For more on foods and supplements to eliminate or include in an anti-radiation diet to avoid potential cancers from radiation exposure:  /radiation-and-cancer-what-potassium-iodide-does-not-protect

Related Articles:  What Potassium Iodide Does Not Protect

What to Do if You Are Exposed to Radiation

RADIATION, THYROID and IODINE – Protection from Nuclear Radiation Exposure

Radiation Exposure and Risk

When a nuclear event occurs, radioactive iodine is released into the air. Our thyroid glands require and absorb iodine to synthesize thyroid hormone, which amongst other things, circulates in our bodies to govern our metabolism. To prevent our thyroids from absorbing the radioactive iodine in the air, it is recommended to take the supplement Potassium Iodide.  This non-radioactive source of iodine will saturate the thyroid with healthy iodine and prevent the absorption of the radioactive iodine which can destroy the thyroid and/or cause thyroid cancer. The FDA has approved two different forms of KI – tablets and liquid – that people can take by mouth after a nuclear radiation emergency.  Tablets come in two strengths, 130 milligram (mg) and 65 mg.  The tablets are scored so they may be cut into smaller pieces for lower doses. Each milliliter (ml) of the oral liquid solution contains 65 mg of KI. According to the FDA, the following doses are appropriate to take after internal contamination with (or likely internal contamination with) radioactive iodine:

  • Adults should take 130 mg (one 130 mg tablet OR two 65 mg tablets OR two mL of solution).
  • Women who are breastfeeding should take the adult dose of 130 mg.
  • Children between 3 and 18 years of age should take 65 mg (one 65 mg tablet OR 1 mL of solution). Children who are adult size (greater than or equal to 150 pounds) should take the full adult dose, regardless of their age.
  • Infants and children between 1 month and 3 years of age should take 32 mg (½ of a 65 mg tablet OR ½ mL of solution). This dose is for both nursing and non-nursing infants and children
  • Newborns from birth to 1 month of age should be given 16 mg (¼ of a 65 mg tablet or ¼ mL of solution). This dose is for both nursing and non-nursing newborn infants

The protective effects of a dose of KI is about 24 hours. KI is available without a prescription, and a pharmacist can sell you KI brands that have been approved by the FDA.   The above doses are to be taken daily until radiation levels, as reported by governmental authorities, drop to safe levels.

To the best of health,

Curt Hendrix, B.S. M.S. C.C.N. C.N.S.