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A microgram of plutonium is considered a lethal dose. Does anyone know what the reading in rads might be for a fish with one one micorgram speck and how long it might take for said speck to kill the fish? Fortunately, the speck would most likely be found in the gills and the next most likely place would be in the gut.

Plutonium roulette at the fish fry anyone?

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by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Wed Apr 20th, 2011 at 03:05:21 PM EST
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One microgram of plutonium is 4 x 10-9 moles, or 2 x 1015 atoms. Such a "speck" would be something like 10 microns across which is about the limit of inhaleable particulate matter:
Larger particles are generally filtered in the nose and throat and do not cause problems, but particulate matter smaller than about 10 micrometers, referred to as PM10, can settle in the bronchi and lungs and cause health problems. The 10 micrometer size does not represent a strict boundary between respirable and non-respirable particles, but has been agreed upon for monitoring of airborne particulate matter by most regulatory agencies. Similarly, particles smaller than 2.5 micrometers, PM2.5, tend to penetrate into the gas exchange regions of the lung, and very small particles (< 100 nanometers) may pass through the lungs to affect other organs.
Now, when people say one microgram of plutonium is lethal, are we talking about a single speck of plutonium, or about inhaling thousands, or even billions of smaller particles?

The wikipedia section on Plutonium toxicity is a mess. The Plutonium in the Environment article is a little better, but still doesn't answer the question.

In any case, the article claims that

About 3.5 tons of plutonium have been released into the environment by atomic bomb tests. ... The plutonium from the Pu fuel of the bomb is converted into a high fired oxide which is carried high into the air. It slowly falls to earth as global fallout and is not soluble, hence as a result it is difficult for this plutonium to be incorporated into an animal if taken by mouth. Much of this plutonium will become tightly absorbed onto sediments of lakes, rivers and oceans. However, about 66% of the plutonium from a bomb explosion is formed by the neutron capture of uranium-238; this plutonium is not converted by the bomb into a high fired oxide as it is formed more slowly. As a result this formed plutonium is more soluble and more able to cause harm when it falls to earth.

Economics is politics by other means
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Apr 22nd, 2011 at 10:46:44 AM EST
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