(March 28, 2011) Energy Probe executive director Lawrence Solomon argues that a little plutonium may actually be good for you.
Plutonium, one of the most feared radioactive substances on earth, may in fact enhance human health, according to unexpected new findings published in the journal, Health Physics.
The new findings involve old animal experiments conducted on beagles in the 1970s and 1980s by the U.S. Department of Energy, to determine the dangers to nuclear workers of inhaling plutonium alpha particles. As expected, the study back then found that plutonium alpha particles when inhaled led to lung cancers, and the more that was inhaled, the greater the number of cancers.
Recently, the government decided to reassess the old data, in part to determine the health effects at low levels of exposure to plutonium. Its reassessment confirmed that high doses increased the number of lung cancers: The cancers started in earnest in beagles exposed to radiation doses above 200 centigrays (cGgy) and, in beagles exposed to doses higher than 2800 cGys, 100% developed tumours. In the control group of beagles, who weren’t exposed to radiation, the lung cancer rate was 18%.
But the reassessment also made a surprising finding – beagles who received low doses contracted fewer cancers than beagles who weren’t irradiated and beagles who received very low doses — in the range of 8 cGy to 22 cGy — came down with no lung tumours at all.
“These statistics indicate the likelihood that low doses of alpha-particle radiation protected against and reduced the incidence of lung cancer relative to the controls,” reported the researchers, based at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, one of the Department of Energy’s 10 national laboratories.
The researchers’ findings, which appeared in an article entitled Carcinogenesis from inhaled 239PuO2 in beagles: Evidence for radiation homeostasis at low doses?, add weight to the growing evidence that low levels of radiation, contrary to conventional wisdom, have health benefits. That portends good news for all mankind, and for mankind’s best friend.
Lawrence Solomon is executive director of Energy Probe and the author of The Deniers. LawrenceSolomon@nextcity.com.
For the full the Health Physics article, click here.