Uranium Neptunium Plutonium Americium Curium Blank Blank Blank Blank Blank Blank Blank Blank Blank Blank Blank Blank Blank Blank Samarium Plutonium
Plutonium Natural plutonium-containing mineralPlutonium Sample from the Everest SetPlutonium Empty nuclear batteryPlutonium Run for your life detectorPlutonium Homeopathic plutoniumPlutonium Photo Card Deck of the ElementsPlutonium Plutonium Plutonium
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Plutonium is one of the most highly regulated substances in the world. So far as I am aware, there are no permitted industrial applications other than nuclear bombs and nuclear power reactors. Unlike, for example, americium, another man-made transuranic element, you cannot buy plutonium at Walmart. (There used to be plutonium-based batteries for pacemakers (see sample below). These are not used anymore, but it is reported that some patients still have working ones implanted.)

There are several reasons for its highly regulated status. First, plutonium is widely viewed as almost unimaginably dangerous. It is in fact quite dangerous, because it is powerfully radioactive, and because it is bone-seeking, which means once you get any in you it attaches itself permanently to your bones, where it sits around casually irradiating the bone marrow that is responsible for producing your blood cells.
But it's not quite as dangerous as many people seem to think. This article provides some perspective (though, for additional perspective, keep in mind that the article was published by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories, the world's largest nuclear weapons research facility, which has a consistently pro-plutonium mind set).

Second there is the problem of criticality: If too much plutonium gets together in a compact form, a spontaneous chain reaction begins which results in a huge increase in the amount of radiation released, and if you have enough, a nuclear explosion. This has happened accidentally in storage pools in Russia, and in weapons labs in the US on at least two occasions. It takes a surprisingly small amount of it to reach dangerous rates of fission. (The critical mass in sphere form is 16kg, but much less than that will still start heating up.)

Third there is the hyper-concern on the part of regulatory agencies that someone could gather enough plutonium to make a nuclear bomb or at least a "dirty bomb". People gathering up normal uranium are not much of a concern, because it's so incredibly difficult to enrich it to the point of being useful for making bombs. But plutonium doesn't need any enriching: It's ready to go right out of the discreet yet strangely heavy attache case passed through an unmarked doorway in a back alley of a forlorn city in Kyrgyzstan.
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Plutonium Natural plutonium-containing mineral
Natural plutonium-containing mineral.
The sample I have representing plutonium is the naturally occurring mineral muromontite, which is a mixture of uranium and beryllium. Putting beryllium near uranium is generally considered a bad idea because the alpha particles from the decay of uranium are captured by the beryllium atoms, which in turn release neutrons. Neutrons are very unhealthy to be around.
In the case of this sample, however, the neutrons are in turn re-captured by the uranium, which then undergoes further decay and is transformed into plutonium. The result is that this mineral contains the highest known naturally occurring concentration of plutonium. (Yes, no doubt some of the neutrons escape. Gillian Pearce, the source of this sample, responds "a few neutrons never hurt anyone". I'm not sure I buy this theory of the harmlessness of neutrons in small numbers, so eventually I'll get it properly measured and quantified. In the mean time, it's in the Hot Box fat lot of good that would do against fast neutrons.)

If you try to look up the name "muromontite" you'll find only very spotty references. Gill explains as follows:
Unfortunately you may not find muromontite for stupid bureaucratic reasons.

Muromontite was discovered and named, but soon after, it was deemed to be a form of allanite, so the name muromontite was discredited. We are told to call it allanite instead. However allanite normally has aluminum where muromontite has beryllium.

In other words, the bureaucrats who control naming are saying we may not distinguish between the aluminum and beryllium forms of the mineral when naming it.

I find this very annoying, because there is probably much more of this fascinating mineral than just that produced by the Swedish quarry, but as officially it must all be called allanite, and most allanite has aluminum where muromontite has beryllium, we have no way of knowing which allanite does contain beryllium and which is the boring conventional aluminum version.
Ah, you've got to hand it to those academics to find a way to fight about just about anything. Not that the non-academics are any better: Dozens of unusual varieties of apples in England are going extinct because the EU hasn't defined an official name for them, and people selling apples under unofficial names are prosecuted for fraud. If the variety doesn't have an EU name, it can't be sold, never mind that it's been on the market for twelve hundred years.

But I digress. Considering the virtual impossibility of owning any real quantity of plutonium, this is probably the best sample I'm going get.

Source: eBay seller rubbleshop
Contributor: eBay seller rubbleshop
Acquired: 19 October, 2002
Text Updated: 29 January, 2009
Price: Donated
Size: 0.1"
Purity: <1%
Plutonium Sample from the Everest Set
Sample from the Everest Set.
Up until the early 1990's a company in Russia sold a periodic table collection with element samples. At some point their American distributor sold off the remaining stock to a man who is now selling them on eBay. The samples (except gases) weigh about 0.25 grams each, and the whole set comes in a very nice wooden box with a printed periodic table in the lid.

Radioactive elements like this one are represented in this particular set by a non-radioactive dummy powder, which doesn't look anything like the real element. (In this case a sample of the pure element isn't really practical anyway.)

To learn more about the set you can visit my page about element collecting for a general description and information about how to buy one, or you can see photographs of all the samples from the set displayed on my website in a periodic table layout or with bigger pictures in numerical order.

Source: Rob Accurso
Contributor: Rob Accurso
Acquired: 7 February, 2003
Text Updated: 29 January, 2009
Price: Donated
Size: 0.2"
Purity: 0%
Plutonium Empty nuclear battery
3D3DEmpty nuclear battery.
This empty canister is clearly marked with stamped lettering indicating it is a plutonium battery containing "less than 3 curies" (which is a lot) of plutonium-238 in 1973. Good thing it's completely empty or else it would be a quite dangerous and highly regulated object (yes, I checked it with a Geiger counter and it's dead as a doornail).

I'm told that plutonium batteries were used in pacemakers and that a number still remain implanted in living people. I don't know if this is one that was intended for that application: It looks a bit big to me, but I suppose there's plenty of room in there. I wonder what the protocol is when someone dies with one of these. Does the NRC come to reclaim it? What if there are religious objections to an autopsy? What if they just forget and years later the battery is dug up at a construction site? So many questions, so little time to look up the answers.

But fortunately reader Andrew Hansen has come to my rescue with the following email a few months after I added this item:
G'day Theodore,

I was just browsing your periodic table site researching plutonium batteries for a project and I came across your reference to plutonium powered pacemakers.

Having just left 15 years in the pacemaker industry to pursue a career as a high school physics teacher I can not only tell you that such things did exist I can provide you with a photo of the beast:

The R9000 was circa about 1970 and was, by today's standards, quite simplistic. It sold mostly behind the old iron curtain and some devices are still going but not many. The idea did not take off in the west for two reasons. The first is the hysteria of implanting plutonium. The second is that most pacemaker companies (and there are only 4 that sell world wide-the list goes up to about 6-8 if you include companies that sell in Europe only) and each company will bring out a new model every 1 to 2 years. Today's devices use either lithium iodine or lithium monofluride batteries and last around 8 years. That means that by the time your battery runs out your device has been superseded at least 3 times.

These days the improvements are minor but as you go back the jumps get more significant. Getting an R9000 would mean spending the rest of your life driving a manual car with no air conditioning, no radio and probably no seat belts either. In the pacing industry you want devices to have a finite lifetime.

Andrew Hansen.
Naturally I responded by asking if he knew where I might get a hold of one, and whether he knew if people were actually buried with them. I had my shovel ready just in case. Ha ha just kidding. I like his answer:
Now for the info that will that will really rock you. They probably would bury someone with a plutonium pacemaker - reason: who would know?

Let me explain. The only people who really know anything about the device would be the company rep that sold it to the hospital and maybe the physician who implanted it. In Oz (where I hail from) company reps attend most implants and the physicians often do not know a lot about the
internals of the devices. The patient and family often know nothing as they are generally senior citizens by the time they get a pacemaker. I am generalizing of course.

When patients reach the end of their lives the first thing they do is stop coming to their routine follow up checks (usually done every 12 months) and so the only people who know anything about what is in them lose contact.

When the patient finally dies the mortician may look for and explant a pacemaker - they're easy to see as they are implanted between the skin and the muscle in the upper chest just under one of the collar bones - but if the family plan to bury rather than cremate then the mortician may not bother.

Pacemakers must be explanted for cremation as a lithium iodine cell has a lot of really powerful chemistry in it - usually 1.2Ahr with a rundown curve that stays flat at the nominal voltage for 90% of its working life before a rapid rundown. If you incinerate one of those little beauties they will actually damage the furnace (which happened here in Oz some years back).

So you can see that it all hinges on the mortician and companies and other health care workers generally have very little contact with them so they have no idea what to do or what to look for.

As for getting hold of one - little chance I would think. They really did not take off in the west so there won't be many in people's desk drawers as "my first pacemaker".

Well, all I can say is, if you're a mortician and you've got any "explanted" pacemakers in your desk drawer, please check them for radiation symbols. I can be reasonable if you have something I want. And if you think you might have a plutonium pacemaker in you, and you're not dead yet, please do consider me in your will. Oh God, did I really say that? (Actually, this is a joke, please don't send me an intact plutonium battery. Even I have my limits, and the NRC takes the location of plutonium batteries quite seriously.)

I almost lost this battery on eBay: I was outbid at $160. But through amazing luck and kindness, the winner, George Kamin, allowed me to take over his winning bid and buy the item myself. (Actually he even offered to pay for it and donate it to my collection, but just the ability to get it for only $2 more than my bid was more than kind enough.)

I chose this sample to represent its element in my Photographic Periodic Table Poster. The sample photograph includes text exactly as it appears in the poster, which you are encouraged to buy a copy of.
Periodic Table Poster

Source: eBay seller allthedodaday
Contributor: Theodore Gray
Acquired: 10 November, 2004
Text Updated: 11 August, 2007
Price: $162
Size: 1.5"
Purity: 0%
Sample Group: Medical
Plutonium Run for your life detector
3D3DRun for your life detector.
This is a 1960's era radiation detector whose actual value as a protective device is somewhat questionable. The idea is to shake the detector and build up static charge in the beads, causing them to float. That part works great. If the detector is exposed to a high enough level of ionizing radiation the static charge will be dissipated, and the balls will drop, hence the instructions to seek shelter if the balls drop. I've held this thing up to the strongest sources of radiation I have and the balls don't budge. Granted my radioactive sources are not all that strong, but I think it's safe to say that if you do ever see the balls drop, you should run, not walk, to wherever you think there might be less radiation around.
Source: eBay seller geoelectronics
Contributor: Theodore Gray
Acquired: 23 December, 2007
Text Updated: 23 December, 2007
Price: $20
Size: 4"
Purity: 0%
Plutonium Homeopathic plutonium
3D3DHomeopathic plutonium.
Nuts at every level. There is no plutonium in this bottle because, as with all homeopathic medicines, whatever ingredients you see listed on the label are by definition not in the bottle. That it is legal to sell homeopathic crap of any kind is a testimony to pathological ignorance, but this one really takes the cake.
Given that plutonium is among the most lethal of all substances, you pretty much have to trust in the utterly fraudulent nature of homeopathy to even consider taking these pills. But what I really want to know is where they got the original plutonium to start the homeopathic dilution procedure from.
You see, the way you make homeopathic "remedies" is by starting with some actual substance, bee pollen, dog hair, whatever, dissolving it in water and/or alcohol, and then diluting that 10-to-1. Then you dilute that solution 10-to-1 again, and again, and again. You do this somewhere between 30 and 50 times. By this point it's easy to calculate that there's basically no chance that there is even a single molecule of the original substance left. Which is a good thing when that substance is plutonium.
But still, there remains the question of whether this preparation started from a solution containing actual plutonium, and if so, where did they get it? Maybe they just drove some water by an air force base housing nuclear bombs and called it close enough. It's not like you could tell the difference in the final product.
Source: Max Whitby of RGB
Contributor: Max Whitby of RGB
Acquired: 29 April, 2009
Text Updated: 28 June, 2009
Price: Donated
Size: 2"
Purity: 0%
Plutonium Photo Card Deck of the Elements
3D3DPhoto Card Deck of the Elements.
In late 2006 I published a photo periodic table and it's been selling well enough to encourage me to make new products. This one is a particularly neat one: A complete card deck of the elements with one big five-inch (12.7cm) square card for every element. If you like this site and all the pictures on it, you'll love this card deck. And of course if you're wondering what pays for all the pictures and the internet bandwidth to let you look at them, the answer is people buying my posters and cards decks. Hint hint.
Source: Theodore Gray
Contributor: Theodore Gray
Acquired: 19 November, 2008
Text Updated: 21 November, 2008
Price: $35
Size: 5"
Composition: HHeLiBeBCNOFNeNaMg AlSiPSClArKCaScTiVCrMn FeCoNiCuZnGaGeAsSeBrKr RbSrYZrNbMoTcRuRhPdAg CdInSnSbTeIXeCsBaLaCePr NdPmSmEuGdTbDyHoErTm YbLuHfTaWReOsIrPtAuHgTl PbBiPoAtRnFrRaAcThPaUNp PuAmCmBkCfEsFmMdNoLrRf DbSgBhHsMtDsRgUubUutUuq UupUuhUusUuo
Plutonium Lump
3D3DLump. (External Sample)
This very small button (ca. 5mm diameter) was borrowed for photography from a research university cyclotron facility: Possession of plutonium would unfortunately not be legal for someone like me, who has no real business having it. I'm actually only partially sure it's plutonium. A fact arguing in favor is that it's clearly dense, which plutonium is. Not so good is the fact that it's fairly shiny: Plutonium corrodes quite rapidly. But, it's ampuled under oil, and if that was done carefully it could stay shiny indefinitely. Regrettably, it's not a flame-sealed ampule, just a plastic-capped glass bottle, and plastic caps always let in oxygen eventually. Ordinarily I would simply take the sample out and test it by XRF (x-ray fluorescence spectroscopy), but the owner strictly forbid its removal from the bottle. Which makes sense since it would likely oxidize if I didn't handle it very carefully in a dry box environment, which would of course make XRF testing difficult. Now, there's nothing more frustrating than a sample you're only pretty sure is real, but in this case that's just the way it's going to have to stay.
Location: Anonymous
Photographed: 15 January, 2006
Text Updated: 31 January, 2006
Size: 0.2"
Purity: >90%
Plutonium Pacemaker
3D3DPacemaker. (External Sample)
I have an empty nuclear thermoelectric battery designed to go in a pacemaker like this, but this one is the whole deal. Museum's listing of this item.
Location: Oak Ridge Health Physics Museum
Photographed: 15 April, 2009
Text Updated: 15 April, 2009
Size: 3"
Purity: 0%
Plutonium Pacemaker opened
3D3DPacemaker opened. (External Sample)
A nuclear pacemaker showing where the plutonium thermoelectric battery would go. Museum's listing of this item.
Location: Oak Ridge Health Physics Museum
Photographed: 15 April, 2009
Text Updated: 15 April, 2009
Size: 3"
Purity: 0%
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