Question about Pu-239 (the film)

In the film, the main character tries to sell 100g of Pu-239 he stole on the black market. What use would that amount be? As far as I know from public sources, you need at least one hundred times that amount for a bomb and I gather that the device had better be pretty sophisticated to make do with even that. Do I have that right? If so, it seems like there are better agents for a radiological weapon, so what would it be good for?


Plutonium metal is (a) highly toxic, and (b) very difficult to chelate out of the body. (Note that we’re not talking the oxide, but the metal, in chemical terms, and that “it’s the gift that goes on giving” as it breaks down naturally.)

While I’m sure there other things you could do with 100g Pu-239, that’s one use a terrorist or other villainous type might make of it.

Find 99 other samples of the same size and put them all together, of course.

Terrorist dirty bomb. The amount doesn’t matter so much since you’re not looking for fission. You just want to spread radioactive debris (and corresponding fear).

Last time I read a Guiness Book (albeit a long time ago) it listed Pu as the most deady poison (by mass) known, taking only one microgram (1/1000 of a gram) to cause cancer. Even without optimal dispursion, still, do the math…

Well, as I said, there are probably better agents for radiological weapons, and in the film, it was implied that it would be useful for nuclear bomb development. In what capacity?

You could make one of these, I think.

1 microgram=one-millionth of a gram.

Plutonium is radiologically toxic, since it’s a powerful gamma-ray and neutron emitter. Both of these are ionizing radiation that can do a big-time tune on your body. Despite what everyone says, it’s not the most toxic substance on earth. Take a look at the Wikipedia article.

Even so, I wouldn’t want it in my neighborhood.

One hundred grams is not enough to build a fission bomb. That’s what, 1/4 lb.? You’d barely be able to see it. You could probably use it for a heating pad.

On the other hand, you could put it in a dirty bomb and cause a lot of panic. You could also try some blackmail. “Pay me $1 million in small bills, or I spray the city with plutonium.” Then fly a small plane over a local park and let out 5 or 10 grams. You’d still be able to detect that amount with a scintillation counter. Fun and Games!

You can see why the IAEA tries to track the stuff as closely as possible. It’s an uphill battle.

Part of the humor in Pu-239 is the fact that everyone assumes the plutonium is really, really valuable and yet none of them have the slightest clue as to how to sell it, who to sell it to, how much to sell it for, etc. It’s like the scene in Office Space where they look up “money laundering” in a dictionary.

So, yeah, 100 g really is only good for poisoning, dirty bombs, and snorting. :slight_smile:

Build a shiny bomb casing filled with used pinball machine parts.