will give you cancer/kill you.
Well, no. A number of people breathed in plutonium dust during the Manhattan Project. I don't have the numbers right here, but they didn't all contract cancer. They did all die, but from other causes, like old age.
So those two statements, which have risen from the ashes of the Las Conchas Fire, are false.
How about this? Just a speck of plutonium can give you cancer/kill you. That changes the statements quite a bit. Can covers a large universe of possibilities. Just a speck of the carcinogenic dust that's floating around New Mexico this morning from the fires can give you cancer/kill you. Just a glass of water, stuck in your lungs, can kill you.
Your body is designed to keep out small specks of anything. The hairs in your nose, the mucous membranes in the respiratory tract, stop particles and flush them out. Very small particles, smaller than about 10 micrometers (I'll believe Wikipedia on this), can get past the defenses. The lungs still have some flushing action and may remove them. But let's say that that plutonium particle stays in the lungs. What then?
The radiation from the particle will damage cells in its vicinity. There are several possible kinds of damage and cell response: the cell may die, it may correct the damage, or it may become cancerous. Even after it becomes cancerous, the body seems to have ways to destroy it. These cell-level processes are still not well enough understood to define specific pathways. If we believe the Wikipedia article, however, these same things happen with many kinds of particles. In particular, the smoke we New Mexicans are breathing contains condensed-ring hydrocarbons, well-known carcinogens. So I'm increasing my cancer risk as I write.
A large number of people have done some experiments for us on the effect of junk in the lungs. Those people are the ones who have been smoking cigarettes. They have been taking condensed-ring hydrocarbons into their lungs, and polonium as well. Polonium, which seems to concentrate in tobacco, is radioactive and decays in much the same way that plutonium does. Some of those people have developed lung cancer, whether from the hydrocarbons, the polonium, or the small particles is impossible to say. But others have not developed cancer. When we learn more about the cellular origins of cancer, we'll be able to sort these effects out.
It bothers me that pundits who supposedly respect science keep getting this wrong. It even bothers me that advocates against anything nuclear keep getting it wrong.
There's more that they're getting wrong that I hope to address later, after I talk to some people who have more recent experience with the drums at Area G than I have. Whatta concept, hey guys?