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Ravenlocks
07-16-2008, 06:37 AM
I need a large number of people at a hotel party to be poisoned by radiation all around the same time and die shortly thereafter, while they're still at the party. Does anyone know if this is at all probable, and if so, what type of radiation would have to be used to poison them?

I've probably put myself on all the gov't lists by googling radiation poisoning and death, but I haven't come up with the info I'm looking for.

I've researched the Litvinenko murder in London, but I need my characters to die faster.

Thanks in advance for any input!

GeorgeK
07-16-2008, 11:09 AM
I don't remember which documentary I saw on it, but there were in the old Soviet Union, a bunch of nuclear powered farm tractors. They used spent radioactive material to act as a heat source for a steam tractor. Unfortunately they didn't always have the proper shielding and farmers are known for tinkering with farm equipment. 3 patients came in to the ER with obvious radiation poisoning and they related that they were walking through the deep snow and found this tractor that was warm to the point that the ground was dry so they slept there for the night and got sick the next day. They all died within a couple days of being hospitalized.

Keyan
07-16-2008, 12:14 PM
I need a large number of people at a hotel party to be poisoned by radiation all around the same time and die shortly thereafter, while they're still at the party. Does anyone know if this is at all probable, and if so, what type of radiation would have to be used to poison them?

I've probably put myself on all the gov't lists by googling radiation poisoning and death, but I haven't come up with the info I'm looking for.

I've researched the Litvinenko murder in London, but I need my characters to die faster.

Thanks in advance for any input!

If you're looking for them to die within hours or minutes, I don't think it works that way. Days or weeks, yes.

There was a tragic case in Brazil in 1987, where someone found a discarded radioactive medical device, and broke it open. Kids played with the glowing blue powder, which turned out to be cesium 137. I think the kids and perhaps some related adults died shortly afterward. At least one home was completely contaminated.

Update:
I googled it - it looks like the symptoms took days to show up, and became acute in a week or so. But I think it took longer than that for even the first deaths.

Ravenlocks
07-16-2008, 06:02 PM
I hadn't heard the tractor story. That's morbidly fascinating. I did come across the Brazil story, but in that case a lot of the people who suffered got fractionated doses, not a big one all at once. Survival is more likely with a fractionated dose.

I was thinking if the radiation were in the food, so it would go directly to the internal organs, then maybe with a big enough dose the people would die within hours (minutes would be even better, but maybe I'm stretching even at hours).

Robert Toy
07-16-2008, 06:11 PM
In 2006, Alexander Litvinenko, ex-KGB was poisoned using polonium-210. Polonium-210 is said to be 250,000 times more toxic than hydrogen cyanide.

Some links below:

http://www.fpa.org/topics_info2414/topics_info_show.htm?doc_id=510710


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polonium

RJK
07-16-2008, 07:48 PM
In my old military training, I saw a chart that showed Roentgens vs. time to death. If you receive enough radiation you will die within hours. I did a google search and found that some Russian soldiers died within minutes from the gamma rays while working on the roof of the Chernoble power plant.

That shows it's possible but you'll need to do some research to get the "How."

benbradley
07-16-2008, 07:52 PM
I need a large number of people at a hotel party to be poisoned by radiation all around the same time and die shortly thereafter, while they're still at the party. Does anyone know if this is at all probable, and if so, what type of radiation would have to be used to poison them?

I've probably put myself on all the gov't lists by googling radiation poisoning and death, but I haven't come up with the info I'm looking for.

I've researched the Litvinenko murder in London, but I need my characters to die faster.

Thanks in advance for any input!
Does it HAVE to be radiation? Could you PRETEND it's radiation, maybe have an actual low-level radiation source around, but then poison everyone? There are lots of plain old "everyday" poisons that will act in minutes or hours. Unless there were some very knowledgable people in the room, the true cause of the deaths wouldn't be known until later.

If you're looking for them to die within hours or minutes, I don't think it works that way. Days or weeks, yes.

There was a tragic case in Brazil in 1987, where someone found a discarded radioactive medical device, and broke it open. Kids played with the glowing blue powder, which turned out to be cesium 137. I think the kids and perhaps some related adults died shortly afterward. At least one home was completely contaminated.

Update:
I googled it - it looks like the symptoms took days to show up, and became acute in a week or so. But I think it took longer than that for even the first deaths.
I read about that accident a few years ago in an online article, it's a fascinating story. I can't find that article offhand it was longish and told about the investigation, trying to trace who had how much radiation, but Wikipedia has an article on it:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goi%C3%A2nia_accident

But yes, it appears that deaths from the "usual amounts" of radiation generally take at least days and up to to decades to happen. Surely enough radiation could be applied to kill someone in hours or minutes, but that would have to be from something like a large amount of radioactive material brought together to form a near-critical or critical mass.

So yes, this is very unlikely (as far as I know...). I suppose you could have a very poorly made "nuclear bomb" go off. It would still go bang (nuke bombs use conventional explosives to drive the nuclear material together quiclky to prevent predetonation) and cause a commotion. Have a "bomb in the kitchen" go off but have it only immediately hurt or kill the chefs and helpers. It would probably make a lot of heat and start a fire in the kitchen, but everyone might assume there's no further problem until they start getting sick and dropping like flies, especially those who rushed into the kitchen to see what was the matter, right around the time the fire truck gets there.

Rudy Rucker wrote about making and "detonating" a crude nuclear bomb in one of his earlier novels, I think it was "The Sex Sphere."

And for the public record, everything I know about this stuff is from having a few physics courses in college many years back, and reading the above referenced sites (Wikipedia has some good stuff on construction of the bombs that were dropped on Hirishima and Nagasaki). My IP addresses have surely been logged in The Appropriate Places. :)

benbradley
07-16-2008, 08:01 PM
I hadn't heard the tractor story. That's morbidly fascinating. I did come across the Brazil story, but in that case a lot of the people who suffered got fractionated doses, not a big one all at once. Survival is more likely with a fractionated dose.

I was thinking if the radiation were in the food, so it would go directly to the internal organs, then maybe with a big enough dose the people would die within hours (minutes would be even better, but maybe I'm stretching even at hours).
For a quick death I think that would take a huge amount of ingested material (your food might be noticably warm, and never cool down!) to directly disrupt the operation of the body. The usual cause of death from ingested radioactive material is that the radiation breaks up the DNA of adjacent normal cells, which kills most such irradiated cells but causes some to become cancerous. The cancer then takes its usual path of months or years to grow enough to kill the person.

Albedo
07-16-2008, 08:05 PM
Equivalent dose (the effect of radiation on living tissue) is measured in sieverts, and the time you have to live is directly related to the dose you get.

Quoting from the upper end of the scale from Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radiation_poisoning):



10–50 Sv (1,000–5,000 REM)

Acute radiation poisoning, 100% fatality after 7 days (LD 100/7). An exposure this high leads to spontaneous symptoms after 5 to 30 minutes. After powerful fatigue and immediate nausea caused by direct activation of chemical receptors in the brain by the irradiation, there is a period of several days of comparative well-being, called the latent (or "walking ghost") phase.[citation needed] After that, cell death in the gastric and intestinal tissue, causing massive diarrhea, intestinal bleeding and loss of water, leads to water-electrolyte imbalance. Death sets in with delirium and coma due to breakdown of circulation. Death is currently inevitable; the only treatment that can be offered is pain therapy.

Louis Slotin was exposed to approximately 21 Sv in a criticality accident on 21 May 1946, and died nine days later on 30 May.

[edit] More than 50 Sv (>5,000 REM)

A worker receiving 100 Sv (10,000 REM) in an accident at Wood River, Rhode Island, USA on 24 July 1964 survived for 49 hours after exposure, and an operator receiving between 60 and 180 Sv (18,000 REM) to his upper body in an accident at Los Alamos, New Mexico, USA on 30 December 1958 survived for 36 hours; details of this accident can be found on page 16 (page 30 in the PDF version) of Los Alamos' 2000 Review of Criticality Accidents.[17]
So if you want to kill off your people quicker than that, you'll have to go well over 200 sieverts. Reading the case reports for those massive doses, the hapless victims were mostly nuclear technicians who were messing around with supercritical uranium or plutonium, not the soft stuff (this was back in the good old days when nuclear physicists were fearless cowboys who pushed around bits of Pu by hand). This raises the problem that your poisoner, having gotten enough U or Pu into an ingestible form, has almost certainly fried himself just carrying it around, as well as everyone else within a one-block radius. This is assuming that an ingested plutonium isotope would give off comparable radiation to a supercritical sample of Pu in the lab, which I'm pretty positive wouldn't be the case.

Note, I'm not actually a physicist. Someone well may come in and tell me that I'm wrong, but I'm tentatively concluding that your scenario is a bit unlikely for the timescale you want.

IceCreamEmpress
07-16-2008, 08:10 PM
Radiation doesn't kill people that quickly unless it's in massive sudden doses. And by "massive" here I mean 100,000 rads.

People who have died from industrial accidents at Los Alamos and other nuclear research facilities usually survive for a week or more--Harry Daghlian (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harry_K._Daghlian,_Jr.), for instance, survived three weeks.

I think you need to rethink your story.

Robert Toy
07-16-2008, 08:12 PM
Eating or breathing less than one-thousandth of a gram typically causes death in 20 days, according to the Health Physics Society.

Albedo
07-16-2008, 08:58 PM
Anyway, potent neurotoxins can be just as much fun. :)

Robert Toy
07-16-2008, 09:01 PM
Anyway, potent neurotoxins can be just as much fun. :)
Shellfish toxin is soooo much fun, especially if you like watching people suffer...;)

Mike Martyn
07-17-2008, 01:06 AM
Radiation doesn't kill people that quickly unless it's in massive sudden doses. And by "massive" here I mean 100,000 rads.

People who have died from industrial accidents at Los Alamos and other nuclear research facilities usually survive for a week or more--Harry Daghlian (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harry_K._Daghlian,_Jr.), for instance, survived three weeks.

I think you need to rethink your story.

And about the only way to get that much radiaition on one shot is to stand too near a nuclear detonation in which event it's a toss up which kills you first; the radiation or the thermal pulse which vaporizes you !

Kryianna
07-17-2008, 01:16 AM
An amount of radiation to kill 200 people at a party is going to cause significant damages to the surrounding area. I don't think you can contain it to just one room -- you're going to be having residual radiation extending a good distance into the building, poisoning innocents. And the building itself will be massively contaminated. I hope you don't need anyone to be staying in that hotel for the next few/many years.

Mike Martyn
07-17-2008, 01:17 AM
As I recall, there was an industial accident in the 1950's at one of the plutonium processing facilities in the US.which I read about when I worked at the Douglas Point Nuclear Generating Station.

One of the techs accidently poured a barrel of one subcritical mass of plutonium into another barrel containg a sub critical mass of plutonium (It must have been in some sort of suspension).

This resulted in a short lived chain reaction. I recall he got about 40,000 rem. He was conscioius and coherent for about 40 minutes, lapsed into a coma and died of acute radiation poisoning within three days.

Ravenlocks
07-17-2008, 04:57 AM
Thanks, everyone. Looks like a simpler poison will be called for. Radiation would have tied in so well with other thematic elements in the story, though.

Albedo
07-18-2008, 10:07 AM
Well, you could still use it. :) Radiation is definitely a wonderfully creepy way to mass-poison people. The only problem is that by its nature it's a slow method, at least without causing a lot of collateral damage. Not having knowledge of your story though I'm guessing speed is of the essence.

blacbird
07-18-2008, 10:35 AM
The technical objections to radiation poisoning have been pretty well discussed. A chemical toxin, like ricin, or a neurotoxin, like sarin, would be more practical. And even ricin takes some days to effect death. Older methods, like hydrogen cyanide, or hydrogen sulfide, are really quick and would be more practical. To kill a lot of people quickly, they'd almost have to be breathing the toxic agent.

caw

FL Author
07-22-2008, 05:57 PM
Radiation is not practical. As for Po-210, goggle "Spy Death by Nuclear Poisoning Tied to American Hiroshima" and read an article I co-authored. Radiological dispersal devices (RDD) or dirty bombs are part of the plot of BEHOLD, AN ASHEN HORSE.

I suggest simple food poisoning. Fast, can be limited to the room by adding the agent to the food. Any chemical agent introduced into the ventilation system will kill everyone.

An aerosol dispenser could be used (EXECUTIVE ORDERS by Tom Clancy), or a GB dispenser (Sarin on subway - Japan).

Ravenlocks
07-23-2008, 06:18 AM
Thanks for pointing me to those. Good info.

MelancholyMan
07-24-2008, 08:23 AM
To kill a large number of people quickly you are going to need a tremendous amount of radiation. Thousands of REMS per individual. You're talking hundred of kilocuries. Even the guys who helped put out the initial fires at Chernobyl lingered for days. So either you have a whole lot of a moderately radioactive substance - possibly hundreds of pounds, in which case transportation and distribution is going to be a major, major issue. Or a little bit of a very short half-life radioisotope in which case it would probably kill whoever was carrying it. And if you are hoping that it would be undetectable, think again. Radiolanthanum is one of the most intensely radioactive substances known, and even it couldn't kill in the way you are looking for. Contrary to popular opinion, radiation doesn't kill quickly unless it is an absolutely enormous burst of neutrons or gamma rays, or radiant energy, and you only get that with atomic weapons.

If you are a stickler for realism this probably isn't going to work. If you're not, just make up something called kryptonium, throw around the words kilocurie, REM, and halflife, and very few people are going to know the difference.

-MM