The topic and statement that Plutonium fuel is being used in Reactor #3 and worries of release have been planted in the psyche of news followers. Just last night I heard this concern voiced again onm one of the major news stations (I critique all the news networks as a whole, and do not single them out, they need to employee fact checkers!).
The fuel used is this reactor is a mix of elements, when it was fresh it had both Uranium and Plutonium in it as an oxide (rust essentially) mixed into ceramic material. This fuel is called Mixed Oxide Fuel, or MOX for short. MOX fuel is very useful, in fact it is a way to get rid of weapons grade Plutonium. As for the exact mixture I am not privy to that knowledge, however it would be in the ballpark of 5 to 7 % plutonium Oxides, with some fissionable Uranium and depleted uranium oxides, and of course some sort of Ceramic binder.
This is where people start fear mongering. Plutonium Burns! It has a half-life of 500,000 years! It is the most toxic substance on Earth! It's radioactive! Oh my gosh it is used in nuclear weapons!
Isotopes of plutonium are used in nukes, however when used in MOX fuel it is an oxide, so it is already burnt (chemically) and would not be able to used in a bomb (it is not pure enough) and finally it is mixed with other ellements which make it unuseable for a bomb. As for its halflife, Plutonium 239 has a half-life of 24,110 years, and even if you look at it from a decay standpoint there will be zero plutonium 239 after 241,100 years (10 half lives), hardly 500,000 years,but definately a long time. Plutonium does exist in nature (look up Oklo, Africa, or natural nuclear reactor) through a peculiar chemical combination of naturally occuring radioactive and non radioactive minerals. As for the toxicity of Plutonium 239, this is a safety precaution that was taken during the first production of it for the fat man bomb. Because chemists new Radium was a toxic metal, they assumed because Plutonium had a higher atomic number, it would be many times more toxic. This has been proven wrong. One needs to ponder this with their morning cup of coffee or while sipping or chugging their favorite energy drink. 14 grams of caffiene is toxic (the approximate weight of 14 small paperclips). 14 grams of Plutionium 239 is also toxic. Unfortunately there have been people who have accidentally and even worse, purposely (without their knowledge and even with their knowledge) ingested Plutonium! What did scientists find out? In extremely small quantities (micrograms and nanograms) the exposed individuals lived longer than the general population! As for the dark side, there was a slight propensity for a rare form of bone cancer (it could not be determined with such a small sample group if it was caused by the plutonium). Think about this, there have been many atmspheric nuclear tests. Nuclear bombs using Plutonium are no where near 100% efficient at using up all the Plutonium. There has been pounds of it spread throughout our atmosphere. We do not have people dropping dead all over the earth. The anti nuclear folks and news (also the movie "Silkwood") say that the amount of plutonium that you cannot see, that would fit on the point of a pin, will kill you. Just drama, don't get involved with the hype.
Digilert 12 CPM (Counts Per Minute), PM1703m 6 microRoentgens/hr, PM1208 12 microSeiverts/hour