I forgot how busy today was going to be at work. But that’s what happens when you have to plan for dispersed plutonium. We’re dealing with ~21 Curies of Pu-242, which is…a lot. Almost 47,000,000,000,000 disintegrations per minute. But don’t worry; you can cut that activity in half simply by waiting until the year A.D. 375,313. Of course, all of that Pu-242 turns into U-238, which has a half-life of about four and a half billion years.
Are we worried? Should you be worried? Answers: not really, and no. We will be phenomenally surprised if we have to deal with alpha radiation. And it won’t be our fault. Whoever messed up the material’s packaging will be to blame.
But. Suppose the packers did mess up. Or, worst case, suppose we managed to vaporize those few grams of Pu-242 and disperse 47trillion dpm into the air. Would that be a hazard? Good God, yes. Snorting that much nonradioactive lead would probably do you in, though not as quickly. Let’s find out.
DAC = Derived Air Concentration: the amount of any isotope which, if breathed in for one hour, will give the inhaler 5 millirem. That dose is assigned immediately, although you wouldn’t actually receive it all at once. And plutonium is one of the most restrictive; 1 DAC is 3E-12 uCi/ml (microCuries per ml). If we convert uCi to dpm, we get a very diabolical looking 6.66E-6, or a mere 0.00000666 decays per second!
Now lemme see…if I haven’t manage to drive you off yet…what would happen if someone snorted that entire plutonium sample? Converting it to millirem…
(inhalation rate of 20,000 ml/m inhalation rate x 60 minutes per hour x 3E-12 uCi/ml = 5 mrem).
Hmm…I’m getting about 8 dpm. Meaning you get 5 millirem for every 8 disintegrations per minute you snort up your snozzle. So, 47 trillion divided by 8 is…let’s just call it 6 trillion. Times 5 millirem, that means 30,000,000,000,000 millirem. That would be…um…more than enough. Even for Batman.
In fact, if these assumptions weren’t conservative (they are), you could divide this plutonium among 75 million people and expect to kill about half of them within 30 days.
Er…that doesn’t sound right, does it? I did these calculations on the fly and without documenting my work. Maybe this can get rechecked tomorrow. Problem is, of our five technicians, three will be in training for half the day. We’ll probably be even busier than today.
Until I get back to you, please don’t snort any vaporized plutonium.
UPDATE—OMG, sooooo stupid! That’s what I create when hurried, howling idiocy. I treated plutonium intake as an acute dose. This was in the same post where I’d written
That dose is assigned immediately, although you wouldn’t actually receive it all at once.
If you actually wanted to kill people in a (relatively) timely fashion, you’d need to cut the exposed by a factor of 100 or more. Thousands and thousands would die prematurely, primarily from, I suspect, leukemia.