In 1946, the first nuclear bomb was detonated. Since then there have been hundreds of thousands- maybe even millions- of these weapons created and detonated throughout history. Despite this progress in technology and science, some are still concerned that we’re not doing enough to preserve plutonium as a sustainable resource with its limited supply continuing to dwindle due to numerous disposes
The “can you touch uranium with your bare hands” is a question that has been asked many times. The answer to this question is no, because of the radiation present in plutonium.
A peculiar dilemma was spelled forth in Document 2774, one of hundreds in the bankruptcy case of Philadelphia’s renowned Hahnemann University Hospital. What should the hospital do with the single patient who still has a plutonium-powered pacemaker?
The device was given to the lady, who has not been identified, in 1975, when she was 23 years old and pacemakers fueled by the plutonium-238 isotope were prevalent. Lithium-ion battery-powered products are becoming the standard.
In 1995, the patient obtained a lithium-battery pacemaker, and the plutonium device no longer works. According to the bankruptcy records, the radioactive one was never removed since it would need a “invasive surgical operation” that wasn’t necessary.
That left Hahnemann—and now its liquidators—with the long-term obligation of tracking down the device and ultimately disposing of it in order to comply with Pennsylvania environmental regulators’ legal requirements.
Except for the pacemaker, Hahnemann’s doors closed in 2019, and by late 2020, its medical data had been transferred, its signage had been removed, and the majority of its hazardous biological waste had been handled—except for the pacemaker.
In 1970, an experimental nuclear-powered cardiac pacemaker was developed.
Getty Images/Getty Images/Smith Collection/Gado
The doctor who was initially in charge of returning it to Hahnemann for appropriate disposal is no longer with the company—and the company is no longer in business. There are no physicians left in the hospital to keep an eye on the patient.
According to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, few if any nuclear-powered pacemakers have been implanted since the late 1980s, although a few are still in use today. The gadgets resemble little metal disks or squares and are small enough to nestle in the palm of a hand.
Laurie DiBari, who had hers at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in Newark, N.J., at the age of 25, said, “I’ve never had an issue with it, so I’m not going to touch it.”
Laurie DiBari’s nuclear-powered pacemaker, which she acquired from a Newark hospital more than 30 years ago, is still working.
Laurie DiBari is shown here.
Her gadget, unlike that of the Hahnemann patient, is still operational. The grandmother and part-time school helper said she checks it every three months from home using a transmitter attached to a landline receiver that receives signals from wristbands put on her wet arms.
“They told me it had to be returned when I died,” the New Jersey resident said. Her doctor informed her that the government does not want the plutonium to fall into the wrong hands because it poses a security concern.
According to Duncan White, a senior health physicist with the NRC, nuclear pacemakers contain just a tiny quantity of radioactive material and pose no danger to patients or others around them. According to him, the quantity of radiation emitted by the pacemaker is less than that emitted by a single dental X-ray.
However, he said that the NRC does not want uncontrolled material in the public domain and wants to assure appropriate treatment, storage, and disposal.
In 2020, the NRC received a call from a doctor who wanted to know how to get rid of a nuclear-powered pacemaker that had been removed from his patient’s dead spouse 42 years before. The NRC thinks the hospital cleaned it, etched a name on it, and gave it to the surviving spouse as a gift, which she treasured for decades.
According to Mr. White, the etching might have caused damage and discharged part of the radioactive material, albeit the spouse was not exposed to radiation in this instance, according to the NRC. It was finally appropriately disposed of by a hazardous waste disposal firm.
In other situations, morticians have removed them and placed them away for recovery by a disposal crew, or individuals have been buried with them as a last option, according to Mr. White. “Out of respect for the family,” he continued, “we chose to leave it there.” “The radioactive material within the pacemaker is tightly sealed so it won’t seep out, and it’s placed underground so it won’t be disturbed.”
Only three of Pennsylvania’s 780 radioactive material licensees use nuclear pacemakers, according to the state’s Department of Environmental Protection, which gave the license.
Hahnemann University Hospital in Philadelphia, which closed its doors in March 2020 due to bankruptcy proceedings.
Cory Clark/Zuma Press/Zuma Press/Zuma Press/Zuma Press/Zuma
After a sour acquisition by California businessman Joel Freedman, Hahnemann, a 496-bed facility well regarded as Philadelphia’s poor hospital and a historic medical teaching institution, was forced into chapter 11. Doctors, municipal authorities, and community organizations have protested the hospital’s closure, and litigation is ongoing while liquidators comb through its business and attempt to find money to cover its obligations.
According to a September court filing, Hahnemann spent more than $15,000 over a six-month period to continue to satisfy the restrictions of the pacemaker license. Hahnemann’s radiation safety officer, a contract consultant, was in charge of patient follow-ups.
According to the bankruptcy records, the license entails keeping frequent touch with the patient, who is currently in excellent condition, as well as arranging for the pacemaker’s removal and disposal following her death.
Lawyers working on the hospital’s bankruptcy have enlisted the help of the Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Off-Site Source Recovery Program, which tries to recover radioactive material from sealed sources that might endanger national security and public health. The company has handled with over 1,600 pacemakers throughout the years.
Although the majority of the pacemaker removals happened about 20 years ago, the Off-Site Source Recovery Program currently gets one or two requests every year, according to Justin Griffin, the recovery program’s team leader. The materials are disposed of at facilities run by the Energy Department.
Hahnemann made a breakthrough in late September. It got bankruptcy court authority to transfer the pacemaker license and its associated responsibilities to Atlanta-based Perma-Fix Environmental Services Inc., a long-time participant in the radioactive waste disposal market. Perma-Fix, according to Hahnemann, is both qualified and cost-effective.
Medtronic produced a plutonium-238-powered pacemaker in the early 1970s.
Getty Images/Getty Images/Smith Collection/Gado
Becky Yerak can be reached at [email protected]
Copyright ©2022 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8
Plutonium is a radioactive chemical element that can be used in nuclear weapons. It’s also used to make nuclear reactors and nuclear medicine. If you handle plutonium, it will not explode. Reference: can plutonium explode.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can plutonium be handled?
A: I would recommend against handling plutonium directly.
Is handling plutonium Dangerous?
A: Handling plutonium is no more dangerous than handling any other radioactive material.
What happens if plutonium touches you?
A: According to the book by Bill Bryson called “One Summer in Europe”, if plutonium touches a person, it can make them go crazy.
- what would happen if you could release the nuclear energy in a log?
- what happens if you touch uranium
- what happens if you eat plutonium
- plutonium and lead reaction
- can you touch plutonium