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March 08, 2007

That Lost Americum

Ezra Klein worries about some Americum that went walkabout.

September 9, 2004, a division of Halliburton dispatched from Russia to Houston, via air freight, a diagnostic tool used in oil fields which contained eighteen and a half curies of americium-241. (A curie is a measure of radioactivity.) That much americium, a Department of Energy official said, “would make a pretty nasty dirty bomb.”

A pretty nasty dirty bomb? Sorry? As in his comments, that's some 6 grams or so. Of an alpha emitter. Other than the panic amongst the ill educated, that wouldn't make a decent dirty bomb in any sense whatsoever.

Now, can we really scare the crap out of these people? Did you know that it is now law that every household must in fact contain Americium 241? No?

It's what makes fire alarms work.

March 8, 2007 in The Low Hanging Fruit Company (BVI) Limited | Permalink


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Interesting post.

Yet another Lie From On High.

Has anyone from Halliburton been fired or prosecuted for this?

Posted by: Martin | Mar 8, 2007 12:38:37 PM

Yes, but you'd need a couple million of the fire alarms to create a bomb.

Posted by: Ezra | Mar 8, 2007 5:52:44 PM

"Other than the panic amongst the ill educated, ..". That's Britain fucked, then.

Posted by: dearieme | Mar 8, 2007 5:54:06 PM

Tim, the credibility of the post would improve if you fixed the misspellings of "americium" ("i" before the "u", no capitalization). Are you trying to make up for "aluminium" by conserving "i"s?

Anyway, considering that we're talking about science, "the ill educated" covers the vast majority of the news media, so widespread ignorant panic is a legitimate worry.

Tim adds: Fair points: although I was in fact copying the american spelling that I copied from Ezra (or the New Yorker). I would normally, as I did in the title, use only one i, which I think is the English spelling....happy to be corrected though.

Posted by: KCinDC | Mar 8, 2007 7:05:18 PM

"Americum" is what I was complaining about. Apologies if it's an accepted spelling somewhere. I'm not convinced it is, though. After all, the whole point of the English change from "aluminum" to "aluminium" was that elements are supposed to end in "ium". Is it actually listed that way in a dictionary? Surely someone would have told Wikipedia.

Tim adds: It may well be that the only place it's an accepted spelling is inside my head......

Posted by: KCinDC | Mar 8, 2007 9:12:12 PM

You mean "sodum" isn't an element?

Posted by: dearieme | Mar 8, 2007 11:29:24 PM

It's definitely americium, Tim.

Anyway, eighteen curies of alpha emitter is nugatory. Am241 is a gamma hazard in bulk quantities but by definition a dirty bomb requires dispersal. Half-life is long: hundreds of years.

Posted by: David Gillies | Mar 10, 2007 7:56:29 AM

A half life of hundreds of years is nothing in the world of radioactivity. Its practically clean.

Posted by: nurd | Mar 24, 2009 11:47:57 PM