The Small Plutonium Dust in the Lung

Translation from french by Hervé Courtois (Dun Renard)

1, What does a small grain of invisible dust of plutonium arrived in a lung?

2) Why are the lungs of French people at risk?

3) and their wallets?

The small grain of plutonium in a lung

The following text * was written by Maurice Eugène ANDRÉ, commandant, honorary instructor in NBCR, Nuclear, Biological, Chemical and Radiological, of the Royal Air Force of Belgium.

He made a great effort of pedagogy:

“The technical aspect developed below shows that a plutonium dust with a diameter of the order of a micron (millionth of a meter) kills by simply lodging in a lung: this dust in fact delivers more than 100 000 rad [see at the end the notes about units] in one year to a lung area surrounding the dust, a very small area delimited by a sphere with a diameter of the order of one tenth of a millimeter having radioactive dust as the center.

I believe that I must reveal the artifice of calculation used by pronuclear scientists to deceive scientists from other disciplines and the public. Before exposing the calculations themselves, I would give an example of this artifice of calculation by applying it to a domain where the vice of reasoning is more apparent.

Here is the example: one can argue that a rifle bullet is not dangerous. It is sufficient to disregard the point of impact (which, of course, absorbs all the kinetic energy of the projectile) and to assume that all the kinetic energy of the ball will be absorbed by a larger area, as for example the whole surface of the body, in which case it is demonstrable that no point of rupture of the flesh will be found. In this example, you will immediately understand the flaw of reasoning which is to disregard the actual fact that the bullet attacks a specific location and not the whole body or a whole organ. It forces rupture at a point because it concentrates all its energy on a small surface or area, and, with equal energy, the smaller this zone, the more certain is the rupture.

Thus, in the case studied for plutonium dust, they seriously deceive the public if they suppose, in the calculations, that the energy released in a determined time by the radioactive dust is diffused throughout the lung, when in reality, it attacks with great precision a well-defined zone of the lung and is therefore very dangerous because it can cause death.

Lus add for non-scientists that, in the case of Pu 239 dust with a diameter of the order of one micron, lodged in a lung, the area to be considered (the small sphere of flesh surrounding the dust) is injured at the rate of one particle shot (ejection of a nucleus of helium projected into the flesh at about 20,000 km per second) every minute (more exactly 1414 shots per one thousand minutes).

Under these repeated conditions of aggression, the body is unable to restore the area, however small it may be, constantly destroyed. Everything happens, in fact, as if they were asking masons to build a house around a submachine gun that would shoot in any direction, and without warning, about a shot every minute.

In this example, it will be understood that the “masons” are the biological materials drained by the body towards the destroyed zone in order to carry out repairs, while the “house to build” is the area of the lung to be restored. Finally, it will be understood that the role of the “submachine gun” is brilliantly held by the radioactive dust of plutonium which can shoot, without interruption, at the same rate, many years (a plutonium dust only decreases its rate of fire very slowly reaching half that rate only after the enormous period of twenty-four thousand years, a very long period in relation to the duration of a man’s life). […] The phenomenon of the considered intensive and uninterrupted shooting is played on a very small scale, but this does not change the reality, which leads, no more and no less, to the onset of lung cancer.

It is the finding that a local and repeated irradiation is harmful and presents necrosing effects: The cancer will proliferate throughout the body from the area, however small it may be, subjected to intense ionization for a sufficient time. In fact, it is a question, on the part of the body, of a reaction to the exhaustion of the faculty of reparation in a very precise place which has been destroyed a very large number of times. “

* It was published in “Studies and expansion”, Quarterly, No. 276, May-June 1978, and reproduced in the book of Wladimir Tchertkoff, “The Crime of Chernobyl-The Nuclear Gulag”, Actes Sud, 2006, p. 83-5.


An autoradiographic study (auto because it is the sample that produces the radiation itself) was done on alveolar macrophages extracted by pulmonary lavage of rats exposed to MOX Massiot et al., 1997, “Physico-chemical characterization of inhalable powders of mixed oxides U, Pu)O2 from the COCA and MIMAS processes “ , Radiation protection vol. 32, No. 5: 617-24; To ± save La Hague and Areva, this powder consisting of 3 to 12% plutonium is used in the atomic reactors ~ 900 Megawatt of EDF.

It was found that “a great heterogeneity of the dose distribution within the pulmonary tissues after inhalation” (Figure 1)


Stars Traces alpha Pu emissions, lung cells © Massiot et al 1997, ffig. 3

 Fig. 1. Autoradiography of rat alveolar macrophages extracted by pulmonary lavage after MOX powder inhalation; exposure time 24h; (Massiot et al 1997, figure 3).The small lines starting from the particles are the traces of alpha disintegrations which destroy the biological tissue on their route.

The authors write: “Autoradiographic analysis confirms the presence of hot spots (Figure 3) whose activity is compatible with the presence of pure PuO2 particles and shows the presence of numerous particles with Low specific activity (1 to 2 traces per day). ” (…) Thus, in terms of radiotoxicology, the problem posed is not limited to the presence of hot spots, but to their association with a much more homogeneous irradiation due to particles of low specific activity. It should be emphasized here that no experimental data are currently available to assess the risks associated with such exposure.” (Massiot et al., 1997, pp. 622-23). This remark was made two years after the opening of MELOX. The future may leave us some funny surprises …

Melox, tons of fine plutonium powder

MELOX, a project carried out since 1986 by the powerful member of the “corps des mines” Jean Syrota, started in 1994-95 and has the right to produce 115 tons of MOX oxide per year (about 100 tons of heavy metal) for France, for Germany (1/3 of the production of MELOX in 2001), Switzerland and before Fukushima for Japan … which also store plutonium at La Hague.
Indeed, plutonium, which is produced in all reactors, can only come from a chemical reprocessing plant of the La Hague type. It must be extracted: fuming nitric acid, massive discharges of krypton-85 etc. MELOX is in some ways the obligatory after-sales service of such a factory. It takes the two or nothing.


MELOX chimney© Areva

Fig. 2. One of the two chimneys of MELOX in Marcoule. The air extracted from the depressurized workshops handling the ultra-fine Uranium and the plutonium powder, is expelled through cascade filters by these chimneys

The plutonium powder (80 μm, mass area 3.5-5 m2 / g) comes from La Hague and the uranium powder from Pierrelatte. There are on-site buffer storages. A primary mixture of 30% PuO2 is put into ball mills for 90 minutes and go thru a 15 μm granolumetry. Posterior fit with uranium powder. The powder is therefore very thin and fluid to be able to be poured like a liquid in tiny dices of one centimeter. It is eminently dispersible by any breath. There were echoes during the dismantling of the Marcoule AT-Pu which preceded MELOX: “The entire internal surface of the machine is covered with a thin black film,uranium and plutonium powder. with grains of a few microns, the highly volatile plutonium and uranium powder was deposited everywhere. On the surfaces of the boxes, on, under and inside the equipments, in all interstices. “ (Libération 28/10/09, S. Huet). In October 2009, after hiding it for several months,The CEA announced that the plutonium fuel dust that had slipped through the interstices over the years was not about 8 kg As they had “estimated” but “about” 39 kg.There was a theoretical risk, that the CEA was unaware, of a criticity accident (the “critical mass” announced being about 16 kg) for its staff.

Such plants must be completely sealed and it is imperative that the expelled air (air drawn from the workshops to be depressurized) to be filtered with great finesse. The cascading filters presented in the flyers like the top of the top, are an absolute, the least, of necessity. That said if (or when) it flees nobody knows it if the operator does not say it. It is completely impossible for an individual, and even many laboratories, to identify plutonium.

MELOX uses about 7 tons of plutonium per year that passes in powder form and therefore any situation of non-containment represents an enormous risk on the Cotes du Rhône and the Valley (Aircraft, explosion, earthquakes with very probable liquefaction on such a site with sandbanks, breaking the waterproofing, etc.). This would require the evacuation of very large areas (Wise-Paris : p.6)..

The CEA-Astrid project, three handfuls of billions

While Phenix in Marcoule still has a part of its irradiated fuel in the belly under its storage shed, its sodium heated by electrical resistances (until 2030), The CEA wants to build another Superphenix (with the same metallic sodium), project which it renamed Astrid.

This one, they want it with a fuel more and more “hot”: 25% of plutonium.

Unfortunately Areva-MELOX being very automated can not do that … So they need another MELOX. The National Commission of Evaluation, CNE, set up by the Bataille-Revol-Birraux laws of 1991 and 2006 was tasked to help with the task. In its 2010 report (Appendix p.28) the CNE wrote: “The construction of the Astrid reactor must be accompanied by the commissioning of a Mox fuel fabrication plant (AFC) in La Hague …” And the first page of the summary of its 2013 report for decision-makers: “In a tense economic context, the Commission considers a top priority … Astrid as well as the fabrication plant for the manufacture of its fuel”.

Then after that ? What should be done with this very “very hot” irradiated fuel from an Astrid? Areva-La Hague, UP2-800 and UP3 can not handle it.

The 2011 CNE Report (p.14): “… Astrid reactor and a reprocessing pilot that allow to test the different operations related to the recycling of plutonium and americium … Demonstrate that the dissolution of irradiated fuel … with much higher levels of actinides than in PWR fuel is controlled “And in its 2012 report, chapter on Astrid p.13: “Passage to the realization of the project … it is essential to conduct the following actions: – Construction of a reprocessing pilot … “; And CNE 1st page of last report (Nov 2013): “In a tense economic context … In a second stage a reprocessing plant for the fuel Mox irradiated in Astrid”. Yes, what could not go wrong…

In fact the “Astrid project of the CEA” is simply that it wants to reconstructs its entire cycle in brand new.

It would not in any way of any use for the wastes that the nuclear industry of the moment manufactures which are glasses, bitumens and concretes. For proof, for those the government sends to Bure the mobile gendarmes. The CEA needs for its triple project, three handfuls of billions of euros: one for the Melox-Astrid, one for the Astrid reactor and one for the reprocessing-Astrid. The CEA eagerly seeks, and thanks to one of their own, they may have already found a part of it via the “CO2 tax of the IPCC” on the households (Astrid would be “non-carbon”, so “clean”, he-he … But a bundle of billions is needed, And they are also looking for the japanese taxpayers of Fukushima (France wants Japan to share 570 billion yen ASTRID reactor development cost
Reminders :

1, A plutonium 239 dust with a diameter of 1 μm weighs 0.000 000 000 015 gram or 15 picograms. Invisible but quite destructive …

2, Units: Gray (rad) Sievert

The rad (which is mentioned once in the small text of Maurice Eugene ANDRÉ at the head of this post) is an energy unit that has been replaced by a larger unit, the gray, Gy (100 rad = 1 Gy).

Often one speaks in Sievert, Sv, or in milliSievert (mSv, thousandths of Sv). The Sievert is a measure of “damage” (gross translation of the gray on the living). We pass from one to the other by a factor Wr:

Dose in Gy × Wr = dose in Sv

The factor Wr is 1 for the X and gamma radiations. For the alpha radiation (Pu, U, Am …) it was 10, I think it became 20 at least for some. It is also increasing for beta (was 1, an English institute switches to 2 for tritium for example). This means that their deleterious effects were underestimated.

3, Another reminder: For the public the current standard, it is by its definition of a limit between the admissible and the inadmissible, of an added artificial dose (total of all the anthropic exposures, except medical) of 1 mSv / year. It is an arbitrary choice based on the principle that all human activity has consequences.

This value indicates from the official factors that this dose received by 1 million people must produce 50 fatal cancers, 13 serious genetic abnormalities and 10 curable cancers. It is not as one sometimes reads a dose of safety.




2 thoughts on “The Small Plutonium Dust in the Lung

  1. Thanks a lot. Very interesting. Will ask CRIIRAD if they have detectors able to find out for plutonium particles (perhaps they have, I know it’s possible to look for uranium this way : “depleted” uranium from the 2003 Iraq War was detected in Aldermaston, for instance. But Roland Desbordes told me the CRIIRAD detectors are less powerful).


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