Osmium tetroxide

WAISers as ignorant as I should know that osmium (from the Greek word meaning odor because of the odor of one of its oxides) is a bluish-white metallic element of the platinum group.  It occurs in the form of an alloy with platinum and iridium.  George Sassoon writes: I mentioned osmium in my last posting as the densest known metal.  This reminded me that in March this year, terrorists were said to be trying to get some of the tetroxide, a known poison, for use in a bomb.  In fact this substance is quite unsuitable for such a use.  In addition to the cost, over $100-$200 per gram, it becomes the dioxide - a rock - on being heated such as in a bomb.  For further information on OsO4 see the web site of the Monterey Institute of International Studies: http://cns.miis.edu/pubs/week/040413.htm
According to this, 'although unquestionably a lethal compound, [OsO4] is not estimated to be a dirty bomb hazard ...'.  I feel safer with this further reassurance of the terrorists' lack of chemical and physical knowledge!

RH: The Monterey Institute of International Studies used to be a language and area center; I gave many lectures there.  It has now become a center for military research as well. WAISer General Robert Gard was once its president.  These stories about red mercury, osmiun and tetroxide make me feel sorry for people like CIA and airport security officers.  How can they possibly know what to look for? I gather that pure osmium (Os) does not occur in nature. Tetroxide (OsO4) is a compound of it.

Your comments are invited. Read te home page of the World Association of International Studies (WAIS) by simply double-clicking on:   http://wais.stanford.edu/ E-mail to hilton@stanford.edu. Mail to Ronald Hilton, Hoover Institution, Stanford, CA 94305-6010. Please inform us of any change of e-mail address.

Ronald Hilton 2004


last updated: September 27, 2004