William Tivol tivol at
Mon Dec 11 13:05:26 EST 1995

Christopher Cook (gdnews at wrote:
: Hi. I'm writing a novel about American terrorists who buy plutonium
: smuggled out of Russia or Ukraine, then threaten to poison the water
: supply of a big American city. I need to know if this is possible, or just
: a terrorist's wetdream. How much plutonium would it take? And how much
: would it cost? How long would it take to kill people?

Dear Evelyn,
	My 62nd Edition of the Handbook of Chemistry and Physics says,
"Because of the high rate of emission of alpha particles and the element
being specifically absorbed by bone marrow, plutonium, as well as all the
other transuranium elements except neptunium, are radiological poisons
and must be handled with very special equipment and precautions.  Pluto-
nium is a very dangerous radiological hazard.  Precautions must also be
taken to prevent the unintentional formation of a critical mass."
	It is certainly possible for a terrorist group to threaten to put
plutonium in a water supply.  This would surely cause a satisfactory panic--
from the terrorists point of view--but would not necessarily result in
death or illness throughout the city in question.  There would not be any
acute radiological injuries, except possibly to the terrorists themselves,
and the number of excess cancers, etc., would depend on the amount of ma-
terial and the volume of water.  Nevertheless, such a threat would probably
meet the terrorist's needs.  The terrorists would also have to be very
careful and knowledgable (or suicidal).
				Bill Tivol

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