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"Plutonium-238 in Oranges"
Health Phys 1987 Jun;52(6):707-15
The interception and retention of 238Pu deposition by orange trees. Pinder JE 3d, Adriano DC, Ciravolo TG, Doswell AC, Yehling DM Radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTG) transform the heat produced during the alpha decay of 238Pu into electrical energy for use by deep-space probes, such as the Voyager spacecraft, which have returned images and other data from Jupiter, Saturn and Uranus. Future missions involving RTGs may be launched aboard the space shuttle, and there is a remote possibility that an explosion of liquid-hydrogen and liquid-oxygen fuel could rupture the RTGs and disperse 238Pu into the atmosphere over central Florida. Research was performed to determine the potential transport to man of atmospherically dispersed Pu via contaminated orange fruits. The results indicate that the major contamination of oranges would result from the interception and retention of 238Pu deposition by fruits. The resulting surface contamination could enter human food chains through transfer to internal tissues during peeling or in the reconstituted juices and flavorings made from orange skins. The interception of 238Pu deposition by fruits is especially important because the results indicate no measurable loss of Pu from fruit surfaces through time or with washing. Approximately 1% of the 238Pu deposited onto an orange grove would be harvested in the year following deposition.