Further Developments in Litvinenko’s Polonium-210 Poisoning

In an extensive follow-up article, the BBC discusses some of the developments that have taken place since I last discussed the apparent poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko. The offices of a security and risk management company that Mr. Litvinenko had visited has traces of radiation; also, radiation has been found in the offices of Boris Berezovsky, a friend that Mr. Litvinenko had visited that day.

In addition, 1,121 people have called a helpline arranged by the health service; 68 cases were followed up and eight people have been referred for specialty testing, according to the BBC. Test results should be available in the next few days, New Scientist reports.

In a separate article, Rob Edwards of New Scientist discusses the difficulties and peculiarities of polonium-210 poisoning:

Nick Priest, an expert on polonium-210 who used to work with the UK Atomic Energy Authority, argues that it would be no easy matter to obtain enough to kill someone. “I find it difficult to believe that it was sourced in the UK or the European Union,” he said.

“All the signs point to it being a sophisticated operation,” he told New Scientist. “You would need a reactor capable of producing and irradiating materials and a radiochemical laboratory.”

However, once obtained, it appears it would be a simpler matter to actually administer the poison.

In solution as a citrate, nitrate or other salt, it could be rendered tasteless and easy to slip into a drink, [Mr. Priest] says. Up to 50% would be taken up by blood and tissue fluid, delivering serious radiation doses to different parts of the body.

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5 thoughts on “Further Developments in Litvinenko’s Polonium-210 Poisoning

  1. It’s amazing to watch the political developments in Russia through the lens of history. This type of sabotage and murder of political opponents was “common” in the Medieval Europe – it was an open secret who did the act and why, and commoners lived with it. The leaders had access to the best technology and used it. We can actually see Medieval-style consolidation of power before our very eyes in Russia.

  2. I heard that just a single partical can make you sick. I suppose this is what terrorist would use to make a dirty bomb?

  3. I’m uncertain what you mean by particle; while small amounts of polonium are toxic, amounts on the order of atoms are not toxic. I don’t know that it would be a particularly effective dirty bomb—as I mentioned in my previous post, since alpha particles do not penetrate the epidermis of the skin, the polonium must enter the body to exert a toxic effect. Being simply exposed to the radiation from polonium outside the body is not harmful.

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