Playing with Plutonium: It’s Bananas!

p.s. on May 15/14: an essay on the banana nonsense here. Many thanks to Bruce Power & the Canadian Nuclear Association for this latest blog post idea. Thanks a bunch, dudes!!

A recent news item (presumably motivated by a news release sent to the media by the Canadian Nuclear Association) makes the outlandish claim that the quantity of radioactive contaminants in the 16 radioactive & school-bus-sized steam generators that Bruce Power wants to ship from Canada to Sweden (with considerable risk to the Great Lakes, supplier of drinking water to 40 million) is equivalent to the amount of radioactivity in 50 bananas.

What?????? Say again??

(For anyone who has not previously heard about this preposterous nuclear industry plan, please have a look at the post “Recycling: The Good, the Bad & the Ugly.”)

This banana business is absurd!! I went on-line to check it out & found a Wikipedia entry here called “Banana Equivalent Dose.”

And I quote: “A banana equivalent dose is a whimsical unit of radiation exposure, informally defined as the additional dose a person will absorb from eating one banana. It may be sometimes abbreviated as BED.

The concept is based on the fact that bananas, like most organic material, naturally contain a certain amount of radioactive isotopes—even in the absence of any artificial pollution or contamination. The banana equivalent dose was meant to express the severity of exposure to radiation, such as resulting from nuclear power, nuclear weapons or medical procedures, in terms that would make sense to most people.”

The entry goes on to state “the validity of the banana equivalent dose concept has been challenged. Critics, including the EPA,[8] pointed out that the amount of potassium (and therefore of 40K) in the human body is fairly constant because of homeostasis,[9] so that any excess absorbed from food is quickly compensated by the elimination of an equal amount.[1][10]

It follows that the additional radiation exposure due to eating a banana last only for a short period after ingestion, not for 30 days (half-life) as implicitly assumed when using the EPA conversion factor.”

& a great deal more. (Check it out!)

What this is really all about is the nuclear industry trying to minimize the danger of their products – & their very, very, very long-lived resulting nuclear wastes. They do this all the time. They try to make those of us who oppose their activities sound like a bunch of irrational wackos.

So their latest gambit is “Shoot! Our 16 radioactive steam generators are as safe as/only as dangerous as 50 bananas!”

Horsefeathers, ladies & gentlemen. To put it very, very politely.

Another recent article reveals that “…radioactive emissions from the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in the early days of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami disaster might have been more than twice as large as a previous estimate, suggesting the accident was more grave than the government had publicly acknowledged.”

Yikes. Who we gonna trust, eh??? Not the nuclear industry, I’d say (& not government either, but let’s leave that one aside for the moment).

I don’t expect anyone to just trust me, either. Check out some facts (not factoids, which is the best you generally get from the nuclear industry).

Here is a partial list of the radioactive contaminants found inside a used steam generator from one of the Bruce reactors. (Please note that the information comes from Ontario Power Generation, the arm of the Ontario government that is ultimately responsible for nuclear generation & transmission.)

Here is a shorter list that focuses on the plutonium isotopes.

Here are “15 things citizens need to know” about the radioactive steam generators.

& here is an entire Web site section focused on plutonium.

Plutonium is a very, very, very long way from being as innocuous as bananas – no matter what Bruce Power will try to tell you. It’s NASTY. Nasty & dangerous, & integral in the creation of nuclear weapons.

Its dangers & risks should not be minimized. Not if you are being even the slightest bit upfront with people.

So. In response to BP’s latest preposterous claim, apparently aimed at demonizing bananas & whitewashing radioactive wastes, I offer up some new bumper sticker phrases/suggestions:

  • Playing with Plutonium: It’s Bananas!
  • Bananas Are a Bomb! (Not)
  • 50 Bananas: What a Bomb!
  • BP: This Plan is Bananas!
  • Sexually active…or RADIOactive?
  • Is That 1,000 Bananas in Your Pocket…or are you just trying to lie about deadly radiation??
  • Have you ding-dongs forgotten about the Titanic????


p.s. A whip-smart colleague says “Let's talk about the real numbers – which are that EACH steam generator has a dose rate of about 80-100 microsieverts PER HOUR (100 uSv/ hr) on contact (reference CNSC CMD 10-H19C, page 3, section 4.2.1 which says “Most of the dose rates from the steam generators were less than 100 microsieverts per hour (uSv/hr) on contact.”)

He continues, “We know that these steam generators are not all alike – some are more radioactive than others – "the maximum contact dose rate measured on a small area of one of the steam generators was 740 microsieverts per hour and the maximum dose rate measured AT ONE METER from the surface of the steam generators was 80 uSv/hr"  (reference CNSC CMD 10-H19C  Sept 27,  2010, page 3,  section 4.2.1). Note that this was the revised estimate to be 740 microsieverts per hour.

“It is curious that the Canadian Nuclear Association would chose to use the banana as a dose, which has been discredited on the science of the estimate. It is also curious that even using this ridiculous measure, they got the numbers WRONG! In the popular literature one banana has been equated to a dose of 0.1 microsieverts and we know that the dose rate for most of the steam generators is about 80-100 microsieverts PER HOUR. So if they wanted to use this ridiculous measure, then the correct answer would have been 800 to 1000 bananas PER HOUR for EACH generator – and there are 16 steam generators proposed to be shipped.

This way of expressing risk seems like a lot of bananas!”

p.p.s. Bruce Power (& its backer, the Canadian Nuclear Association) say BP wants to “do the right thing.” The first “right” thing to do would be to stop spewing nonsense & start telling the truth. The second? Get on back to school & brush up on the math, dudes, pullllllese! Third: Put this stupid, preposterous, dangerous, absurd & ill-conceived plan right where it belongs. In the trash can. Bury it… (the plan, not the waste).

p.p.p.s. There are many other postings about the steam generators here

p.s. # 4: & yikes!! Check out a news item here about a small boat hired by Bruce Power that sank in Lake Huron last week. Never mind the Titanic; this was just a tiny boat. Holy moley, dudes. And we're supposed to just trust you on a plan to put 16 school bus-sized radioactive steam generators on a ship & sail it halfway around the world??? I don't think so...

'Quote of the day' with this post: “Nuclear power is safe only if no Act of God is permitted.”  – Nobel-prize-winning physicist Hannes Alfven, 1972