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Plutonium in soil near the japanese nuclear reactors

Dear Reader,

It has come to my attention that traces of plutonium has been detected in the soil close to the site of the reactor accident.

Before anyone asks, I will say that the detection of small traces of plutonium in soil is not an easy matter. I imagine some of you will have seen in films where someone waves a Geiger counter like a magic wand and instantly detects plutonium or whatever else. In real life things are not so easy. The reported levels of the plutonium in the soil is low, it is only about 10 times a limit for baby milk which is 1 Bq per kilo.

Typically soil samples have to be dried in ovens, burnt to ash and then subjected to a very harsh acid extraction. The plutonium has to be separated away from all the other stuff before it can be measured by either ICPMS, alpha counters or some other method.

This is not a quick and easy experiment to do ! One of the big problems is the fact that it is normally very hard to dissolve plutonium oxides.




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