Malaysiakini Letter

Thorium-232 is safe if you don't eat or inhale it

Dr Looi Hoong Wah  |  Published:  |  Modified:

If you go to Google and look for pictures of how foreign scientists handle Thorium-232 and even pure Enriched Uranium-235 and 238 you would be able to find a lot of pictures showing that you can safely hold pure Thorium or Uranium pellets or rods in your hands because Thorium-232 when it decays, produces only alpha particles and no gamma rays.

 

Because of the very long half life of Thorium-232 which is 14 billion years (the age of the universe is only 13.7 billion years) the amount of Thorium-232 which is transformed to Radium-228 after, say, one year is incredibly small and as such only a tiny amount of alpha radiation (helium atoms without their electrons) is produced by the Thorium atoms.

Alpha particles do not penetrate the human skin and is therefore not dangerous. Thorium-232 is safe provided we are not stupid enough to eat it or ground it up into a fine powder and inhale it. Even if you were to eat the non-radioactive Lead-208 you would not be staying healthy for long!

 

Thorium-232 DOES NOT produce the dangerous penetrating ionising gamma rays. The 0.09 MeV of gamma radiation detected comes from Thorium-228 decay to Radium-224 to Radon-220 to Polonium-216 and ultimately though a number of pathways to the stable non-radioactive Lead-208.

 

That’s why I really cannot understand why people in Kuantan are so irrationally fearful of the Lynas Rare Earth Plant which produces only a small amount of Thorium-232 in their waste product. That plant is not a nuclear reactor or a nuclear bomb manufacturing facility but only a plant to extract rare earths from its ore which is dug up from the ground! And the rare earth ore has been in the ground for billions of years !

The situation has become ridiculous and even farcical. For instance one of my friends has even stopped construction of his new house in Kuantan because he is fearful of a nuclear explosion in the Lynas plant!!!!!!! This impossiblity has become a probability in the minds of the intensely brainwashed people in Kuantan.

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