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Atomic bombs and radiation in TV shows

  1. Apr 6, 2007 #1
    It's interesting that TV series these days are adding suspense to the show by adding the threat of atomic bombs and nuclear explosions. But have the writers done their homework? Is this stuff anywhere near plausible? I'd like to know other peoples' opinions.

    Example 1, "24"
    An unmanned aircraft from Russia equipped with an atomic bomb meant to detonate in the US lands on the ground somewhere in California. The bomb's casing seems to crack open, but there is no explosion. Firemen arrive first on scene; they get pretty close to the craft before taking out a Geiger counter and listening to it go off like a firecracker. They then run off to leave the scene to Hazmat, but CIA agents suspect that by then, they've already been exposed to fatal levels of radiation.

    My assumption: First of all, it's downright dumb to send in firemen when there's a dangerous nuclear weapon around, regardless of whether it's actually exploded. However, I thought the core of most nuclear weapons would be a fissile isotope, and most of those heavy atoms decay naturally by alpha radiation. Unless there was some strong neutron flux near the bomb, it shouldn't just fission by itself. And if there was a flux, any reflector material in the bomb would likely make the system go critical.

    Example 2, "Heroes"
    There's an atomic man who has the special power of emitting high levels of radiation. The police detectives who investigate the case first search his home and measure radiation levels. They report a background measurement of 25 Curies and a measurement of 1800 Curies on items atomic man has touched before. They later take "radiation poison pills" to reduce the effects of radiation exposure. The atomic man's wife dies of cancer, presumably from his power. When atomic man gets angry, he can cause a glass of water to boil, and cause nasty burns on human flesh and other objects.

    My assumption: I thought most radiation detectors measure in units of eV, or rad/s. The Curie is a unit of activity, and you'd have to know the method of decay and energy deposition before calculating the activity. Still, 1800 Curies seems to me like overkill; even 25 Curies sounds like a lot for background. And anti-radiation pills? Maybe something to help reduce vomiting, but otherwise I can't think of a way to instantly heal someone from radiation exposure.

    Whaddaya think?
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 7, 2007 #2
    I likly the least expirenced here, but I agree with you. Because most people don't know much about radiation, the writers can get away without doing their homework.

    24 - Like you said, fissile material is mostly alpha radiation, so I don't think a Geiger counter would work. IIRC, the plan on detecting nuclear bombs that might be coming into the country is to shine X-rays on the containers and analyze the responce spectrum.

    Heroes - Since this is a sci-fi show, and I've never seen it, I'm not sure I should comment; I'm not sure I understand what his power is. If they are measuring Curies, he's activating the materials with which he comes into contact. 1800 sure is alot though.
    I think the raidation pills is a throw back to the Iodine pills that were given out to people near power plants in the case of a plant exploding and spreading fission products all over the place. Your body collects Iodine in the thyroid, so the idea is to flood it with Iodine-127 (stable) before your body starts picking up radioactive Iodine.
  4. Apr 7, 2007 #3
    The writers on Heroes need to check with their science consultants more (if they even have any) because a Curie is a huge honkin' amount of any kind of radioactive substance. Not to mention the fact that you don't measure radiation levels in Ci but in gray or sievert

    But it's all sci-fi and as everyone knows, the laws of physics don't apply to sci-fi :)
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