A few weeks ago on Twitter, a Japanese guy named Yukari Takasugi pinged me (and a lot of other journalists) with an incredible video. Without another word of comment, I give you Pluto-kun of plutonium:
Oh yeah, it’s the real deal. There are a few ways to know: first, it’s actually pretty accurate. Plutonium is made in nuclear reactors, it is an alpha emitter, and Glenn Seaborg did discover it. Some of the health claims made by Pluto-kun are slightly more dubious: I wouldn’t want it in my water, and the assertion that “there is no case concluded so far that man got cancer from plutonium” is dishonest. It’s true that it’s always difficult to directly link an individual case of cancer to radiation exposure, but this summary by the Federation of American Scientists shows that workers who inhaled plutonium at Los Alamos and the Russian facility, Mayak, did face cancer risks.
Finally, Pluto-kun’s argument that “it is very difficult to make an atomic bomb by using the plutonium,” seems just a liiiitttle outdated now that we have a nuclear North Korea threatening stability in the region.
Digging around a little, I traced this gem back to a quasi-government laboratory called “Power Reactor and Nuclear Fuel Development Corporation,” which was working on advanced fuel-cycle projects like breeder reactors (hence another mascot: an adorable pink drop of liquid sodium coolant). The Wall Street Journal’s Japan-Real-Time has a nice mascot round-up from Japan’s nuclear industry. It also pointed me to the animated gif at the start of this post. I have wanted an animated gif on this blog for a long time now, and it’s better than I ever could have dreamed.
So is this just some funny quirk of pre-Fukushima Japan? Meet Richie Enrichment, the brand-spanking-new mascot from URENCO, Europe’s enrichment corporation. Richie is here to help kids understand the basics of uranium-hexaflouride and centrifuge cascades. He also teaches us that “nuclear power plants are very safe and secure.” One thing he won’t teach you is how to steal nuclear technology from URENCO and then use it jump start a domestic weapons program whose expertise can later be sold to rogue nations through an illicit trafficking network (click here for a primer on that topic).
I know that there are probably a few nuclear types who read this blog. Can any of you tell me why these weird cartoon characters pop up? It seems unlikely that they’re going to convince anyone that nuclear power is safe, and when something like Fukushima happens, they only create embarrassment for the industry. Moreover, they are unnecessary. I think most people accept that nuclear is a powerful technology that carries risks, just like a lot of other technologies. Aluminum smelting doesn’t have a mascot (that I know of), so why does uranium enrichment need one?
Finally, if you could point me towards more nuclear mascots, that would be awesome.