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Ex-Spy Victim of Weapons Grade Polonium

While it sounds like a plot for a not very good who-done-it, Russian ex-spy Alexander Litvinenko, an ex-pat in London, was poisoned with polonium 210 in a sushi restaurant, and dies three weeks later (The radioactive spy). Litvinenko accused Putin on his death bed, but Putin says it wasn’t him. Now the mystery spreads - as does the fear of collateral contamination. However, there is a larger concern that is not being discussed - rogue nuclear weapons.

Perhaps, like me, you had never heard of polonium 210. It is a manufactured radioactive element that is most commonly utilized in thermo-electric generators. It is intensely radioactive, but has a relatively short half-life. The Los Alamos website informs us that it can be commercially purchased from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (see note).

Polonium 210 has a half-life of roughly 140 days, and could be used as the "initiator" for a nuclear bomb (Bulletin of Atomic Scientists)

Some fingers are pointing at China, as "It is one of the few countries - the United States is another - with the specialist laboratory to produce Polonium 210 as a deadly weapon." It is used in China's space program. However, according to Wikipedia, both the US and Russia have regularly used it in space operations as well. Britain also produces weapons grade polonium (Britain's Nuclear Weapons), and reportedly weaponized polonium is one of Russia's contributions to Iran's nuclear program.

ITAR-TASS reports that the "Cobra Committee" (Scotland Yard's emergency group for a national security crisis) has taken the lead in the investigation into Litvinenko's assassination. The Cobra committee membership varies depending on the national emergency. The fact that a national emergency committee has been called is very significant considering that any collateral contamination would almost certainly be localized to those who came in direct contact with bodily fluids from Litvinenko. It makes perfect sense if the concern is that someone has acquired a significant quantity of weapons grade polonium that could be used as a nuclear reaction initiator.

Further, the clock might be running given the 140 day half life of polonium 210. Anyone planning an explosion would have that long to do it. The other scenario is that someone has access to an ongoing supply, which raises the specter of an ongoing radioactive threat.

So, the question remains of who poisoned Litvinenko? How did they track the poisoning back to a Sushi bar, and why that location? Polonium is a weapon with fingerprints. But whose?

Apparently Litvinenko had an "extensive" article in Chechenpress (no longer a viable site) on the use of terrorism as a method of controlling populations (article is also missing on the web). From the quoted article at McDuff's site, the gist of the article was that states might (are) use terrorism as reason for increasing militaristic control measures on the general population. Further, that Russia was doing exactly that.

[Litvinenko wrote a a book titled "BLOWING UP RUSSIA: Acts of terror, abductions, and contract killings organized by the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation." Available here as an English Word file.]

So we have a tangled picture here. Terrorist, or a state acting as terrorist? Regardless, there is much more potentially at stake here than collateral radiation exposure from the assassination of Litvinenko.


[Note: ORNL is a government (DoE) facility managed by UT-Battelle which is a "non-profit" 50/50 partnership between the University of Tennessee (UT) and Battelle, "a global science and technology enterprise that develops and commercializes technology and manages laboratories for customers.]

Posted by Rowan Wolf at November 25, 2006 9:05 PM
Comments
Comment #196458

Good article, Rowan. Non-proliferation is one of the weak points in this administration. The use of unsecured and easily accessible radioactive materials (used by many large corporations) for a “dirty” bomb has never been addressed by Republicans.

Posted by: American Pundit at November 25, 2006 11:54 PM
Comment #196472

Rowan,

Good article. I would tend to think that Russia was behind this. The KGB had a history of using assassination as a tool to silence dissidents even in foreign countries. Trotsky is probably the best known example of this, but hundreds of others have died as well. From what I’ve read, the Kremlin is accussing exiled oligarchs in London of doing this saying that they’re trying to discredit Moscow. It would seem that only a very limited number of intelligence agencies would have the expertise and access to polonium to do this, the FSB being the main suspect.

I’m not sure what to make of this. While the KGB/FSB has a history of assassination, it seems a bit stupid to me to use a method that seems to point the finger directly at them, especially when there are other means, such as an “accident” or random mugging gone bad that might be used. Perhaps the Russians felt that no one would think that they would do something so stupid and hope that the very method that most implicates them might vindicate them. No other nation had any immediately apparent motive for this. One could speculate that perhaps China wants to discredit Russia, the same for the US, but that doesn’t make much sense. Also, no element is pure, and trace elements will always remain. These trace elements are very carefully documented, such that the US, Russia, and China might be able to “prove” that they didn’t do it by offering the specs of their own polonium for comparison against what killed Litvenenko. Altogether, a very disturbing puzzle.

Posted by: 1LT B at November 26, 2006 5:21 AM
Comment #196483

AP,

In contruction, we use Americium andCesium intest equipment to test soil engineering properties. The NRC has been quietly increasing controls and enforcemnt of regulations on handling these materials since 911. It specifically requests that these policy notifications not be publicized, though they are not secret.

Posted by: gergle at November 26, 2006 11:59 AM
Comment #196536

AP

We know the Dems will makes things all better soon…
They can do it all…
I can’t wait for utopia,,,

Posted by: cliff at November 26, 2006 11:39 PM
Comment #196585

The Google cache of the article “Terror, as a control facility for the country” is here:

http://72.14.203.104/search?client=safari&rls=en&q=cache:http://www.chechenpress.co.uk/english/news/2005/06/01/02.shtml%23&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8

Posted by: Kathryn Cramer at November 27, 2006 5:34 PM
Comment #196657

Polonium-210 is easily and cheaply available, in a gadget sold for photographers and labs to control dust and static electricity. Called ‘Staticmaster’ it contains a polonium-210 insert that can be renewed as the radioactivity declines. A replacement insert for the one-inch brush costs about twenty bucks.

The brush has abundant warnings about avoiding contact or ingestion of the polonium-210. It would seem easy enough, even if also risky business, to grind up the insert and extract the active material…

There are zillions of these things out there, and even years later, though the radioactivity has diminished to where they are useless for their intended purpose, they are still potentially lethal.

Here is a website of just one supplier online. The Staticmaster used to be a standard item in photographic supply shops — I haven’t looked for one for twenty plus years, perhaps they still are.

http://www.2spi.com/catalog/photo/statmaster.shtml

Posted by: Bob Tyson at November 28, 2006 4:36 AM
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