Did you know that you could drink plutonium laced water with no ill consequences? That all you need to do is wash it off your hands with soap and water? That no one has died from Plutonium? That the Plutonium from nuclear reactors cannot be used to make a bomb?
...But perhaps the most controversial of all promotional characters is Pluto-kun, or Little Mr. Pluto, who represents the friendly side of one of the most toxic substances known to man, plutonium.
The brainchild of a now defunct government research organization, the apple-cheeked animated Little Mr. Pluto debuted in the mid-1990s wearing a green helmet with a pair of antennae and the chemical symbol for plutonium, PU. Promising to “never be scary or dangerous,” Little Mr. Pluto extolled the benefits of plutonium, which Japanese nuclear authorities have viewed as a fuel of the future for fast breeder reactor technology.
But an animated video used in educational materials included a widely criticized scene showing Little Mr. PU shaking hands with a boy who safely downs a plutonium-tainted beverage to make the debatable point the substance would pass through a body without doing harm.
Hello Kitty needn’t have worried about the competition. Much like Japan’s single fast breeder reactor, Mr. Pluto never caught on in a big way. His patron was shut down in 1998 after a series of nuclear accidents and was replaced with another government entity. Today, he exists without much fanfare buried on the website of the state-funded Japan Nuclear Cycle Development Institute.
He whiles away the days in relative obscurity sliding down an animated rainbow with a few radiation-tolerant pals such as Little Miss Sodium (a pink blob with red pumps representing sodium coolant) and Uranium Boy (a frowning Pac-Man-like orb surrounded by two atomic rings). Little Mr. Pluto and friends are the official hosts of Atom World, an interactive museum in Ibaraki prefecture north of Tokyo sponsored by the government’s Japan Atomic Energy Agency.
“We use these characters for educational outreach,” said Isamu Ishii, a spokesman for JNCDI. “But as far I know, we no longer have a video.”
[~1:30] The video begins with Pluto-kun disguised as a ghost. He explains that much of the fear surrounding plutonium is due to misconceptions. He says that it is very unfortunate that plutonium is used in nuclear weapons [like the one dropped on Nagasaki]. But he hates war! He loves to work for peace. He aspires to be like dynamite, whose power has been used for the benefit of mankind.
[1:30] Pluto-kun provides some basic information about plutonium. He explains that plutonium is created from uranium in nuclear reactors. He also says it was discovered by the US scientist Glenn T. Seaborg in 1940, and that it was named after the dwarf planet Pluto. (See Wikipedia for more.)
[2:30] Misconception #1 -- Pluto-kun addresses the fear that criminals could obtain plutonium and build a nuclear weapon. He explains two reasons why this would be virtually impossible. First, weapons require plutonium with a purity of at least 93%, but plutonium from reactors is only about 70% pure. A high level of technology would be required to produce weapons from this plutonium. Second, a high level of security is maintained around plutonium in Japan, making it all but impossible to steal.
[4:00] Misconception #2 -- Pluto-kun addresses the fear that plutonium is deadly and causes cancer. Plutonium's danger to the human body stems from the alpha radiation it emits. Because alpha radiation is relatively weak, it does not penetrate the skin, and plutonium is not absorbed into the body if it comes into contact with skin. He explains that you would not die instantly if you were to drink plutonium. If swallowed, the vast majority simply passes through the digestive tract without being absorbed. If it enters the blood stream (through a cut, for example) it cannot be removed easily from the body. It accumulates in the lymph nodes before ending up in the bones or liver, where it continues emitting alpha radiation. Plutonium can also get into the liver or bones if it is inhaled into the lungs. It is important not to breathe it in or allow it to enter the blood stream.
[6:00] No human is ever known to have died because of inhaling or ingesting plutonium.
[7:00] Pluto-kun explains what would happen if criminals dumped plutonium into a reservoir that provides our drinking water. Plutonium is heavy and it does not dissolve easily in water, so most of it would sink to the bottom. Even if you were to drink plutonium-laced water everyday, the vast majority of it would simply pass through the digestive system without being absorbed by the body.
[7:30] Pluto-kun suggests that the dangers of plutonium are often overemphasized, making it seem scarier than it actually is. He explains that most people associate plutonium with deadly radiation and nuclear weapons, but he likens this to a fear of non-existent ghosts.
[9:40] Pluto-kun explains that he is not a monster, and he asks you to understand who he truly is. As long as people use him peacefully and with care, there will never be any danger or anything to fear. He will provide an endless source of energy for a long time to come. He will be a reliable friend
Stills containing the subtitles have been extracted and compiled into a slideshow, also below.
Tinyurl alias for this page: pu-boy: