1994-08-25 - U & Pu is good for U

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From: Brad Dolan <bdolan@well.sf.ca.us>
To: cypherpunks@toad.com
Message Hash: be1fef34c335fb35cff0b4e4af29515738f233889e47fe3076f4f0118f05cec8
Message ID: <199408252138.OAA15395@well.sf.ca.us>
Reply To: N/A
UTC Datetime: 1994-08-25 21:38:43 UTC
Raw Date: Thu, 25 Aug 94 14:38:43 PDT

Raw message

From: Brad Dolan <bdolan@well.sf.ca.us>
Date: Thu, 25 Aug 94 14:38:43 PDT
To: cypherpunks@toad.com
Subject: U & Pu is good for U
Message-ID: <199408252138.OAA15395@well.sf.ca.us>
MIME-Version: 1.0
Content-Type: text/plain

>From:   IN%"jdd@aiki.demon.co.uk"
>To:     IN%"psmarie@cbis.com"
>CC:     IN%"cypherpunks@toad.com"
>Subj:   RE: U & Pu "poisoning of the environment"

>In message <9408251512.AA11369@focis.sda.cbis.COM> "Paul J. Ste. Marie" writes:
>> > > Epidemiologic studies of workers [even wartime workers with impressive
>>                                      ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
>> > > body burdens/ exposures] in a number of uranium bomb-making centers have 
>>     ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
>> > > found ~ no health effects.
>> > 
>> > This is quite similar to saying that nerve gas is harmless because
>> > scarcely anyone working in storage areas has been killed by it.  Or
>> > that bullets won't harm you because people handle crates of them and
>> > they don't get shot.
>> No, it is not.  If you had read the message more carefully, you would
>> have had to phrase your example as, "This is quite similar to saying
>> that nerve gas is harmless because scarcely anyone who has inhaled
>> substantial amounts of it has been killed by it."
>In all of these cases there is a serious attempt to make sure that the
>workers are not harmed by the dangerous substances involved.  I must
>say that the phrase "impressive body burdens" is fairly incomprehensible.

I grant you that "impressive" is not too specific but "body burden" is 
a common way of referring to the material which is taken into the body 
and retained.  Typically, most material inhaled or ingested is quickly
exhaled or excreted out of the body.  Some exposure (and dose) accrues
during this time.  If some material remains deposited in the body,
exposure continues.  

>But nevertheless, my point stands: workers are carefully protected from
>the plutonium and U235 in nuclear weapons plants.  

By the standards of the time, workers during WWII were pretty well
protected.  By our standards, which may be overly conservative, some
WWII-era workers received large doses and/or body burdens.  Because 
these workers (1) had exposures and (2) were monitored, they are the
group of choice for epidemiological studies.

>                                                   When their radiation
>badges show what is considered a high level dose, this does not mean
>that they have been exposed to anything like, say, the radiation from
>a kilo of unshielded plutonium.

I would be happy to hold a kilo of unshielded plutonium in my hand.
I would probably think it wise to wash it later.  Pu is an alpha emitter.
Its radiation will not penetrate the dead layer of the skin.

I have held pieces of uranium in my hand.  I'm still here.

>If radioactive substances are used as weapons, the intention will be
>to do the maximum possible damage.  I don't think that anyone would
>survive for long after exposure to, say, a suspension of plutonium
>in air designed to be breathed in, perhaps as an aerosol.

I would bet that you could get a lot more effect for your terrorist
dollar with aerosols of any number of other, more commonly available 
substances (like gasoline).

I don't have ready access to a good library right now to go pull
references but if you follow up on the references to these three
papers, you should find more than you will ever care to read on
the topic:

Wilkinson, G.S.; Tietjen, G.L.; Wiggs, L.D.; Galke, W.A; Acquavella,
J.F.; Reyes M.; Voelz, G.L.; Waxweiler, R.J.   Mortality among 
plutonium and other radiation workers at a plutonium weapons facility.
Am. J. Epidemiol. 125:231-250; 1987.

Checkoway, H.; Mathew, R.M. Shy, C.M.; Watson, J.E. Jr.; Tankersley, 
W.G.; Wolf, S.H.; Smith, J.C.; Fry, S.A.  Radiation, work experience, 
and cause specific mortality among workers at an energy research 
laboratory.  Br. J. Indust. Med. 42:525-533; 1985.

Peterson, G.R.; Gilbert, E.S.; Buchanan, J.A., Stevens, R.G.  A Case-
Cohort Study of Lung Cancer, Ionizing Radiation, and Tobacco Smoking
Among Males at the Hanford Site.  Health Physics, 58:3-11; 1990.

>To repeat my point: you say that statistical studies of workers in
>nuclear weapons plants which are specifically designed to minimize
>the effects of radiation show that radiation has done little harm.

Loosely put, the studies say, "Workers at facility X whose exposures
varied from {small} to {large} showed/did not show increased 
death rates from {long lists of diseases}."

>Well, I should hope so.

>On the other hand I say that such studies are poor criteria for
>judging the effects of radiation intended to do the maximum possible

Well, these studies are about all we have to go on right now.  The
wartime residents of Hiroshima and Nagasaki do provide a large set of 
folks exposed to "radiation intended to do the maximum possible harm" 
but, darn it, none of them were wearing dosimeters.  People do study 
these groups, making educated guesses about doses, but it's hard to
draw precise conclusions on that basis.

To draw this off-topic topic to a close, I recommend the following to
help bring the various risks into perspective:

Cohen, B.L.; Catalog of Risks Extended and Updated.  Health Physics, 
61:317-335, 1991.

>I think that this is really indisputable.
>Jim Dixon

Sorry for disputing.

Brad  bdolan@well.sf.ca.us