Plutonium is constantly referred to by the news media as ``the most toxic substance known to man.'' Ralph Nader has said that a pound of plutonium could cause 8 billion cancers, and former Senator Ribicoff has said that a single particle of plutonium inhaled into the lung can cause cancer.
The book sources the quote as coming from:
- R. Nader, speech at Lafayette College (Spring 1975).
Another source states that he said this in a debate with radiation pioneer Ralph Lapp:
- Discussions Of Nuclear Power Should Be Based In Reality by nuclear engineer Theodore Rockwell, published in The Scientist:
For example, one day consumer activist Ralph Nader was debating radiation pioneer Ralph Lapp. Nader stated that a pound of plutonium could kill every human being on Earth. One could picture a one-pint jar of the stuff spilling on the ground and its dea dly vapors spreading until all life was obliterated. That's what Nader's statement means in the common-sense real world. But Lapp put the statement in its proper context by replying: "So could a pound of fresh air, Ralph." Now how can that be? We've been repeatedly told that plutonium is the deadliest substance known. And we know that fresh air is literally the breath of life. What's going on here? Nader's statement was not actually a lie; he was just trying to make us think that a hypothetical conjecture was a real-world problem. He's saying that the lethal dose of plutonium is a five-billionth of a pound. It's really several thousand times larger, but even if Nader were correct, the only way you could actually kill the world's 5 billion people with just one pound would be to line them up and have a trained physician inject into each person just the toxic amount of plutonium-no more or there wouldn't be enough to go around. It would have to be in a fine aerosol mist, or it wouldn't be lethal, and it would have to go directly into the lung. Then we would have to wait several decades, protecting the individual from other life-threatening influences such as cars, smoking, and malnutrition, until he or she died of lung cancer, because plutonium poses no other health threat.
Context can make a huge difference in what people actually mean, so I wonder if Ralph Nader has actually claimed that a pound of plutonium could cause 8 billion cancer deaths, and, if so, if context would indicate whether he means it in the way it is interpreted.
Did Ralph Nader claim that a pound of plutonium could cause 8 billion cancers?
Question inspired by: Is plutonium the most toxic substance known to man?