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UK Lab Traces Polonium To Russian Nuclear Plant 413

Posted by kdawson
from the couldn't-make-it-up dept.
reporter writes "British authorities had identified polonium 210 to be the radioactive poison that killed Alexander Litvinenko, the former Russian spy who defected to Great Britain. Now, according to a disturbing report, the authorities have identified the source of the poison to be Russia. Bloomberg ominously reports, 'Scientists at the U.K.'s Atomic Weapons Establishment in Aldermaston, west of London, have traced the polonium 210 found in London to a nuclear power plant in Russia, the capital's Evening Standard newspaper reported today. Officials at the establishment didn't return calls.' A cold chill just fell on relations between Russia and the West." In another twist to this developing story, the shadowy Italian security consultant who dined with Litvinenko has also fallen ill with radiation poisoning.
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UK Lab Traces Polonium To Russian Nuclear Plant

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  • And so... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Omeger (939765)
    The Second Cold War begins...
    • More like... (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      ...the first cold war never ended.

      The neocons prematurely declared victory when the soviets imploded from within with their socialist disaster.

      Even more salient is the fact that many of these tribal theocrats that we are fighting in the GWOT are those that our US tax dollars created and propped up ourselves are a counterbalance to the godless commies.

      It seems a perfectly valid argument that we never won the cold war, we are still fighting it and paying for it, and war with Eurasia has merely been replaced w
      • Re:More like... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by b0s0z0ku (752509) on Saturday December 02, 2006 @03:07PM (#17082130)
        The neocons prematurely declared victory when the soviets imploded from within with their socialist disaster.

        Nah, the Cold War "victory" was of the same type as the "victory" over Germany after WW 1. The Allies beat the Germans, but they left an impoverished, dispirited people who were educated and in possession of fairly advanced technology. The time was ripe for a charismatic leader to come in with promises of wealth and victory and rebuild their war machine. Same goes for Russia ca. 2006.

        -b.

        • by Catbeller (118204)
          Neocons leaving a defeated country alone and helpless to rot and fester, becoming a new totalitarian state? I can't imagine that happening again.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Dobeln (853794)
          Pretty decent analogy. Still, the whole "Putin did it because he's bad" line of reasoning can also be analogized to the "Saddam has WMD because he's bad" approach before the Iraq war. Jumping to conclusions in intelligence matters can be hazardous.
          • Re:More like... (Score:5, Insightful)

            by b0s0z0ku (752509) on Saturday December 02, 2006 @04:05PM (#17082662)
            Still, the whole "Putin did it because he's bad" line of reasoning

            I'm not convinced that Putin did it. In fact, we're unlikely to know for certain *who* did it. Ever. The guy made a lot of enemies, and there are also a lot of people who'd be glad to sacrifice one ex-spy to make Putin look like a villain.

            -b.

            • Re:More like... (Score:5, Insightful)

              by rednip (186217) * <rednip@nosPam.gmail.com> on Saturday December 02, 2006 @06:20PM (#17083876) Journal

              Still, the whole "Putin did it because he's bad" line of reasoning

              I'm not convinced that Putin did it. In fact, we're unlikely to know for certain *who* did it. Ever. The guy made a lot of enemies, and there are also a lot of people who'd be glad to sacrifice one ex-spy to make Putin look like a villain.

              -b.

              The guy made a lot of enemies, and there are also a lot of people who'd be glad to sacrifice one ex-spy to make Putin look like a villain.
              That comment is strait from the 'official talking points' from the state supported media. It would seem that the 'anti-Putin' faction seems to be particularly blood thirsty, as they are killing of numerous reporters, and other dissidents. They really need to get that plot to Hollywood as it might make a good thriller. While the tin-hat folk would disagree, I cannot recall one proven historical event where people were 'sacrificed' for a cause in such a way. Sure a few times accidents and random crimes have been 'spun' for political affect (like the Maine in Cuba), but killing off people who agree with you is not a conventional nor logical tactic.

              Hell, the state-corrupted media has even gone as far as suggesting that the former spy killed himself, perhaps with the polonium 210 pack all spies carry.

              The fact is that killing dissidents is old Soviet SOP, the fact that it is making a come back with an old KGB guy at the helm is no real surprise. In my mind the only real question is 'does Putin know or is it being done without his knowledge by those who benefit from his coattails?'. Frankly, I suspect the latter, but only because I don't really want to piss him off, because every one knows what happens to his critics.

              • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

                by b0s0z0ku (752509)
                The fact is that killing dissidents is old Soviet SOP, the fact that it is making a come back with an old KGB guy at the helm is no real surprise.

                It wouldn't *surprise* me if the hit came from Putin, FSB & Co, I'm just saying that it's not certain. The Russians have a long history of doing rather messy murders of their enemies. (Like Oleg Penskovsky who was a GRU double agent for the Americans - when they caught him, after his trial and death sentence they supposedly burned him alive in an incinerat

            • Re:More like... (Score:4, Insightful)

              by hey! (33014) on Saturday December 02, 2006 @07:17PM (#17084280) Homepage Journal

              I'm not convinced that Putin did it.


              Which, for the record, isn't exactly a happy thought.

              It's like still being friendly with President Musharraf after Pakistan has been implicated in spreading nuclear technology all over the place; we don't hold him responsible for the actions of the rogue intelligence agencies that control his counry's nuclear technology.

              Still, I don't think this was done around Putin's back. He's a serious hardball player, not some two bit general riding an out of control tiger.
        • Re:More like... (Score:5, Interesting)

          by JavaLord (680960) on Saturday December 02, 2006 @04:21PM (#17082838) Journal
          Nah, the Cold War "victory" was of the same type as the "victory" over Germany after WW 1. The Allies beat the Germans, but they left an impoverished, dispirited people who were educated and in possession of fairly advanced technology. The time was ripe for a charismatic leader to come in with promises of wealth and victory and rebuild their war machine. Same goes for Russia ca. 2006.

          -b.


          The cold war never ended. The soviet empire coming down was a farce [amazon.com] according to KGB agents who defected. Notice that book was published back in 1984.

          Russia is slowly getting back onto her feet economically. She paid off the last of her Paris club debt from the Soviet era under Putin. She helped Bush stumble into the Iraqi war by provinding false intellegence [myway.com] much like America did to Russia to lure them into Afghanistan years ago. The spike in oil prices has helped the Russian economy. So why was Litvinenko killed? Well, he was alleged that al-Qaeda number two Ayman al-Zawahiri was trained by the FSB [bbc.co.uk](KGB)in Dagestan in the years before the 9/11 attacks.

          The US is still fighting the cold war by proxy, even if they don't realize it.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by elucido (870205)

      Hey now wait a second, that is an over-statement.
      You are suggesting that this situation is going to blow up into another cold war?

  • by interiot (50685) on Saturday December 02, 2006 @02:26PM (#17081736) Homepage
    The article doesn't say... Do they know if it came from a reactor near Moscow, or if it came from a reactor on the periphery of Russia? That is, does Russia have plausible deniability by saying that rogue agents unattached to the central government did it? Or is it clear that the assassination was ordered by the higher-ups in the Russian government?
    • by WarlockD (623872) on Saturday December 02, 2006 @02:31PM (#17081784)
      A more disturbing question however is what are we going to do about it? Even if we did trace it to the reactor to Russia, what do we do? Europe is stuck by being reliant on Russia for their gas supplies. US has more issues with Iraq and Iran to worry about it. Not to mention being a veto power in the security consol, where do you think demands of an investigation are going to lead to?

      Russia could just come out and say they killed the guy, but with the power they pushed on the Ukraine on energy supplies, the Russians have much more leverage.
    • by Marnhinn (310256) on Saturday December 02, 2006 @02:35PM (#17081832) Homepage Journal
      As someone that spent several years recently (2001 - 2004) in Russia, the location of the reactor doesn't much matter. The government in Moscow is just as corrupt as anywhere else (we bribed low level officials all the time for registration [simply put - people aren't paid enough and often turn to outside sources of income]).

      I don't think any higher up (in organized government) would be dumb enough to order a hit this sloppy. The FSB, underfunded and undermanned as they are, is still very professional. They (the FSB) would have known that the radioactive elements would be traced. Personally, I'd bet this was done by some elements of government that are mafia (very common and they can afford to be sloppy since they are much harder to track). The dead guy had a long history of making enemies...
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by JavaLord (680960)
        I don't think any higher up (in organized government) would be dumb enough to order a hit this sloppy. The FSB, underfunded and undermanned as they are, is still very professional. They (the FSB) would have known that the radioactive elements would be traced. Personally, I'd bet this was done by some elements of government that are mafia (very common and they can afford to be sloppy since they are much harder to track). The dead guy had a long history of making enemies...

        Ever think they didn't care if it
        • by Cyberax (705495) on Saturday December 02, 2006 @05:50PM (#17083620)
          I'm Russian.

          You know what, about 95% of people in Russia do NOT care about Politovskaya and Litvinenko. Most of reactions in Russian forums and blogs were 'Oh? What?'. Politkovskaya had almost ZERO influence on Russian politics because she supported Chechen militants back in 90s and she is _always_ against the government (she's a nutcase). Few more years and she would slide into oblivion.

          Actually, you might say that Politovskaya became popular after her death.

          BTW, nobody believes that FSB has killed Litvinenko. They are not that sloppy.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by rednip (186217) *

        I don't think any higher up (in organized government) would be dumb enough to order a hit this sloppy.

        You might have said the same thing about Nixon. Corruption and crime are nothing new in politics, and those that hold office will continue to prove that they are simply human. Sure the KGB (or whatever they are calling it these days) are 'smarter' than 'that' as a group, but it's likely that whoever is doing 'these dirty deeds' doesn't report though the normal chain of command, nor are these plans well

    • by reporter (666905) on Saturday December 02, 2006 @02:47PM (#17081974) Homepage
      Below are two more sources reporting that UK scientists have traced the polonium to a nuclear plant in Russia.

      1. Deadly polonium traced to Russian nuclear plant [thisislondon.co.uk]
      2. Plot Thickens as Spy Poison is Traced to a Nuke Plant in Putin's Russia [nypost.com]

      The second source suggests that the isotope composition is the signature that identifies a specific power plant. However, the Atomic Weapons Establishment declined to give the location of the plant.

      I am sticking to my original guess of the culprit: a renegade group in Russia. Various reports have indicated that numerous factions, answering to no one, operate within the Russian government. One of these factions likely committed the crime.

      Putin is just too smart to kill someone in such a blatant way. He would have known that such a gruesome murder would have serious negative consequences.

      • Putin is just too smart to kill someone in such a blatant way. He would have known that such a gruesome murder would have serious negative consequences.

        the one where the baddies were trying to make the Russian leader look weak, but then again, I've probably got confused with some other spy movie series...

  • by Peter Cooper (660482) on Saturday December 02, 2006 @02:27PM (#17081742) Homepage Journal
    A cold chill just fell on relations between Russia and the West.

    An even bigger chill will occur if we get too uppity with Russia about this. As a major supplier of European natural gas, we could be sitting freezing in our homes within a week or two if Russia turned off the taps. We have been on the verge of a gas crisis [blogspot.com] here in the UK for some time now.

    Diplomacy cuts both ways, and I dare say the UK government isn't going to push this too far given the energy situation.
    • by b0s0z0ku (752509) on Saturday December 02, 2006 @02:30PM (#17081772)
      As a major supplier of European natural gas, we could be sitting freezing in our homes within a week or two if Russia turned off the taps.

      Build more atomic power stations and invest in reprocessing technologies and you won't have to worry about the Russians. You're still using MAGNOX reactors from the 60s since the NIMBY (not in my backyard) crowd has blocked building of new ones.

      -b.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 02, 2006 @03:03PM (#17082108)
        Plus, if you build more nuclear stations you'll have your own supply of Polonium-210 with which to poison the Russians!
      • by joe 155 (937621)
        you are partially right, we do need to avoid dependence on any country who could ever become hostile to us. Pretty much that means any country (we might be able to trust those in the EU because it would be suicide for them economically to do anything like cutting us off, but even then don't put all your eggs in one basket). I would rather we put in renewable energy sources though, god knows we have enough wind and waves, we could fairly easily provide all the energy we'd ever need if we just made a one of
      • by drsquare (530038)
        All the nuclear power stations in the world won't help when you need gas to heat your house and cook your food.
        • by b0s0z0ku (752509) on Saturday December 02, 2006 @03:33PM (#17082362)
          All the nuclear power stations in the world won't help when you need gas to heat your house and cook your food.

          Last time I checked, electrical resistance heaters for cooking and heating homes had been around for the best part of a century. In the British climate, which is moderate year round, you could probably even get away with using heat pumps for climate control since the winter temperatures (at least in Southern England) seldom stay below freezing for long.

          -b.

          • by drsquare (530038)
            Electric heating is very ineffective, and electric cookers are beyond worthless.
            • by b0s0z0ku (752509)
              Electric heating is very ineffective

              Properly-designed electric heat is as good as any other form of heat. It's used a lot in Washington, DC, which has colder winters than most of Southern England and it works fine. Don't confuse the cheap "radiator" heaters with a properly designed home heat system!

              electric cookers are beyond worthless

              They take getting used to, and aren't as fast as gas, but they do work. The problem is that there's often not perfect contact between the pot bottom and the heating c

            • by TheGavster (774657) * on Saturday December 02, 2006 @04:13PM (#17082754) Homepage
              I've lived in an all-electric home for 15 years. The electric heaters keep the room pretty much exactly at the temperature you set on the thermostat. In addition, they make almost no noise (silent in operation, a little bit of popping from the housings expanding when they turn on at night) compared to the constant rushing sound of steam or water radiators. The glass-top electric stove heats up in under a minute, and in a definate win over gas can be cleaned just by wiping it down like the rest of the counter. Oh, and it can manage it's own surface temperature too, since it can turn the element on and off. Best of all: no pilot light to have go out and leave you with a smoking crater to return home to.

              Oh, and since my power comes from the local nuclear plant, I'm not sending clouds of greenhouse gases and radioactive carbon isotopes billowing into the atmosphere.

              The depressing part is that the house and the nuke plant were put up in the 70's ... not new tech we're looking at here (the stove is an early-90's replacement for the original unit)
    • by Mateo_LeFou (859634) on Saturday December 02, 2006 @03:17PM (#17082222) Homepage
      I agree with you. Nobody's going to give Russia an ultimatum unless they do something *really bad, like for example unauthorized copying of people's intellectual property.
  • Can you be poisoned by any Alpha source entering your body or is it just a problem with certain types? I was just wondering this because there are radiation sources all around this. Im not a chemist so I wouldn't really know the answer to this but Slashdot has plenty of people who can answer this?
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by b0s0z0ku (752509)
      Can you be poisoned by any Alpha source entering your body or is it just a problem with certain types? I was just wondering this because there are radiation sources all around this.

      Actually, just swallowing the source and having it pass through your system is unlikely to do serious damage. Intestinal mucus would probably block the alphas pretty nicely. The source would have to be in a bioavailable (absorbable) form - i.e. some bare metals or preferrably a soluable salt.

      -b.

    • by RsG (809189) on Saturday December 02, 2006 @02:40PM (#17081882)
      Not sure exactly what you meant to ask, but here goes.

      Alpha radiation can't penetrate skin. So superficial contact with an alpha emitter isn't really a concern. OTOH, if you ingest/inhale an alpha emitter (like polonium 210), then your internal organs can be exposed to it. This, obviously, is a bad thing. In polonium's case, IIRC, it's soluble in bodily tissues, and has a very short half life of 138 days, so it's quite dangerous (remember that half life and radioactivity are inversely linked).

      Beta, gamma and neutron radiation are somewhat different. Those can get through skin, so superficial contact is a potential concern. Beta is blocked by aluminum foil (get out your tinfoil hats!), gamma and neutron require denser materials such as lead, or thicker, less dense materials like deep soil. Neutron radiation has the added hazard of neutron activation (it can render previously safe materials radioactive).

      Additionally, ionizing radiation from sources other than radioactive decay, like X-rays and UV, can generally be bad for your health; these can be seen as less serious than gamma radiation, but more serious than alpha (UV is blocked by sunblock for example). Non ionizing radiation is de facto harmless, barring intensities severe enough to cause thermal burns.
      • Not sure exactly what you meant to ask, but here goes.
        Well my question is if it it's possible to be poisoned by another alpha source that is more easily available like the source found in smoke detector or other devices.
        • by RsG (809189) on Saturday December 02, 2006 @02:59PM (#17082058)
          Ah, well smoke detectors use Americium:
          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Americium [wikipedia.org]

          Which is indeed radioactive (and a gamma emitter to boot), but has a longer half life than Polonium (hundreds of years instead of hundreds of days). Remember that decay is a finite process; the longer it takes to finish, the less radiation is emitted per second. So Americium isn't as strong as Polonium.

          Plus, the quantities used in smoke detectors is small - less than a microgram. You'd need an awful lot of smoke detectors to amass a dangerous amount of Americium. That doesn't mean you couldn't kill somebody, but it's a poor choice to slip into food or drink.

          What makes Polonium an attractive poison is the lethal dose. You don't need to slip much into someone's food to kill them. Other alpha emitters aren't as good candidates in this regard. Now, as to why they used a radioactive poison in the first place, I don't know; perhaps they wanted to send a message?
          • by NeutronCowboy (896098) on Saturday December 02, 2006 @03:30PM (#17082328)
            Alpha-radiation poisons are one of the very few poisons where even if you identify the poison that was administered, there is nothing you can do. In essence, once you have administered the poison, the guy is dead. Even if he doesn't know it yet. As for why they didn't use good ol' fashioned lead poisoning... I suspect that it is harder to find out who administered polonium as opposed to a couple of slugs to the head.

            This does denote a very sophisticated organization though. Polonium is not easy to obtain, and most people don't think polonium when they want to off someone. As a matter of fact, the method of death often points to the group - everyone's got their favorite methods.
    • Any could give you radiation poisoning depending on the activity present. Polonium tends to be high activity and is a pure alpha (no gammas/betas) which is probably why it was used.
      • by Vellmont (569020)

        Polonium tends to be high activity and is a pure alpha (no gammas/betas) which is probably why it was used.

        Not to nitpick, but according to wikipedia Po 210 is a very low gamma emmitter (1 in 100,000 decays). But I'd guess you're right that it might have been picked because it's hard to detect unless you're looking for it.
  • Well... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by PieSquared (867490)
    I don't suppose anybody could tell *when* this radioactive material was made in Russia. Perhaps it was actually made in the Soviet Union? If so, then nobody can say for certain that the Russian government is responsible for this... bigger things went missing when the government changed, IIRC.

    I can't see a reason why the Russian government would poison the former spy so long after he defected. The death wasn't exactly instant, so if they were worried about some secret he hadn't told yet this wasn't the wa
    • Re:Well... (Score:4, Informative)

      by CRCulver (715279) <crculver@christopherculver.com> on Saturday December 02, 2006 @02:40PM (#17081866) Homepage

      I can't see a reason why the Russian government would poison the former spy so long after he defected.

      Because he was publishing embarassing exposees about Russian politics. His book Blowing Up Russia [amazon.com] blames the Russian government for the apartment bombings used as an excuse for escalating the war in Chechnya. It's easy to see why some would want to shut him up permanently.

    • Re:Well... (Score:5, Informative)

      by KingArthur10 (679328) <arthur,bogard&gmail,com> on Saturday December 02, 2006 @02:48PM (#17081978)
      Polonium 210 has a half life of only 138 days. To have enough survive from the cold war era that they'd still have lethal amounts is far fetched at best. Wikipedia link on Polonium 210 [wikipedia.org]
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Vellmont (569020)

      I don't suppose anybody could tell *when* this radioactive material was made in Russia.

      I bet you actually could tell when this material was made, or at least last purified. Po 210 decays into Pb 206, which is stable. Assuming there's enough Pb 206 to outnumber the natural Pb 206 in the human body (Pb 206 is naturally in the environment making up 24.1% of all lead), you could measure the ratio of Po 210 to Pb 206 and determine how "old" the Po 210 is, since that ratio would go down as the Po 210 "ages".

      The
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by theycallmeB (606963)
      Given that Polonium 210 has a half-life of 138 days and the Soviet Union collapsed about 15 years ago, there would be about 3 parts per trillion left of any Po210 produced during the last days of the Soviet Union. In fact there would be 2 parts per million (or less) left of any Po210 produced before Putin became the President of Russia. So if the Po210 used to posion Litvinenko went missing from a Russia reactor, it was the current Russian government that lost it.

      As for who did it, nothing tells your cri
    • I can't see a reason why the Russian government would poison the former spy so long after he defected.

      He either knows something that has recently become sensitive, or he long ago pissed off someone who recently got enough power to get a very cold revenge.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Catbeller (118204)
        He said that the government, Putin, deliberately bombed the apartment blocks in 1999 to create a pretext to start a war with Chechnya. He also said Putin was a secret pedophile. That should do it.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by RexRhino (769423)
      You are assuming that Russia wants to keep it a secret that they murdered the guy. If Russia is trying to intimidate defectors/critics, etc., then you want something that can be pretty clearly linked to Russia. Using Polonium is not so much to be secret, but to make sure the target suffers before they die. Kind of like the modern version of being stabbed in the head with an icepick.
  • by Dr. Eggman (932300) on Saturday December 02, 2006 @02:31PM (#17081780)
    *note* I feel sorry for the families for their loss, this post is not ment to sound as thouhg I mean otherwise.

    This is a terrible event for nuclear energy. Directly connecting murder to radiation poisoning to only-in-nuclear-plants-production is devistating for public opinion. It won't matter that radiation generated by polonium can't even pentrate paper, let alone paper; that it is lethal (if ingested or inhaled) is what will stick in people's mind. Worse yet, news reports other people unrelated to the victims showing signs of minor levels; one analyst called it the 'equivalent of a dirty bomb' which is ludicrous but it'll still going to stick in the public's mind just as we really need to start developing new nuclear plants and technology.
    • by b0s0z0ku (752509) on Saturday December 02, 2006 @02:43PM (#17081910)
      It won't matter that radiation generated by polonium can't even pentrate paper, let alone paper; that it is lethal (if ingested or inhaled) is what will stick in people's mind.

      What's worse is that coal contains traces of natural polonium. Burning coal releases more radioisotopes into the atmosphere than the equivalent energy production by a decently-run (i.e. no serious accidents) nuke power station.

      -b.

    • by Jugalator (259273)
      Yes, hopefully people will realize that this is a completely different problem than the reactors though, and it's a political attack, not a technological one. As long as we have politicians (what's suspected right now) willing to harm people with their resources, I'm not sure taking away reactors will help much. It would harm our societies a lot though.
  • Before people start saying this is obvious proof of Putin's guilt, stop and think about it. Why would anyone EVER use polonium to kill someone? Radioactive substances are probably the one of the most controlled substances in the world, with only a relatively small number of places they can even be produced. I can think of fewer weapons that would leave such an obvious trail [npr.org].

    If someone wanted only to kill this Litivinenko to silence him, or for revenge, or whatever, there are a million easier and more con
    • by Ryan Amos (16972) on Saturday December 02, 2006 @02:38PM (#17081856)
      Because they WANTED to get caught. Litvinenko was a critic of Russia who had fled because he didn't want to "disappear." There are others like him. The best way to get them to shut up is to kill one where he thinks he is safe, and let everyone figure out exactly how you did it. The whole incident will get blamed on a mid-level military officer, but the message it sent is clear.
    • by hairykrishna (740240) on Saturday December 02, 2006 @02:43PM (#17081922)
      A low dose of an alpha emitter would be a perfect untracable poison. There would be no acute radiation posioning systoms - it would just screw up his bone marrow and kill him via infection. It would be VERY hard to detect the polonium. It is possible they screwed up the dosage.
  • by qwertyman66 (1005175) on Saturday December 02, 2006 @02:35PM (#17081834)
    I'm sure that I'm not the only person here from the UK who is getting sick or the way that the mass media is hyping up this. Yes the poor guy was killed with something that is radioactive. So what? It emits alpha radiation. The radiation can't penetrate the skin. If you go by what the papers are saying you would get the impression this is on the same level as a nuclear bomb. It is a sad reflection on how our society has gone that the media are hyping this up to unbelievable levels, and people are swallowing it. Simply because something radioactive was used. From what I have heard, the radiation is secondary here. The metal is toxic if you ingest it anyway. So why play up the radiation? Because people don't understand it. I hate the mass media, they play to peoples' fears and always report on what they think will get the biggest reaction. If they could just cut it out I might be tempted to actually buy a newspaper more often.
    • by cliffski (65094)
      agreed 100%. Im sick of this story. Foreign government secret services kills man. film at 10. Seriously why is it a big deal (apart from the fact that a mans been killed, which is obviously pretty bad for his family)? do we really think our secret service doesnt try similar stunts? We even tried to bump off ghadaffi for crying out loud, and the US govt has made more attempts to wipe out castro than I've had hot meals, and thats foreign LEADERS, not just a critic of your government.

      What amazes me is that *an
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by OfNoAccount (906368)
      The reason they're playing up the radioactivity is because it's by far the most likely cause of death. A lethal radiation dose can be obtained through ingesting as little as 50 nanograms of Po210 - 50ng is a spectacularly small amount.

      Compare that to the batrachotoxin found in the Golden Poison Dart Frog, something which is regarded as highly toxic, which has a lethal dose of around 40 micrograms.

      In other words ere talking nearly a thousand times less material required to kill someone with Po210, than
  • Italian Contact Safe (Score:2, Informative)

    by JymmyZ (655273)
    It looks as though the Italian contact with Litvinenko is safe and isn't suffering any radiation sickness, though he was admitted to the hospital with concerns of massive radiation poisoning. http://observer.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,,19 62535,00.html [guardian.co.uk]
  • according to a disturbing report...

    What's disturbing is that this happened at all. What would really be disturbing would be if the source or vector for this seemed to come from Chechnya or someplace where, rather than Russian politics, it was cultural warfare trotting the stuff out as a weapon. In a wierd sort of way, it's actually comforting that it was out of Russia, aimed at a Russian (however stupidly).
  • ``A cold chill just fell on relations between Russia and the West."''

    Why? Why is it so bad the reactor was in Russia? Would it have made any different if it had been somewhere else? If it had been in the UK, would a cold chill have fallen on relations between the UK and the West?
    • by Aurisor (932566)
      > Why is it so bad the reactor was in Russia?

      Because now it looks like Putin had one of his critics offed.

      > Would it have made any different if it had been somewhere else?

      Yes. If the polonium came from Russia it's likely that the government did it, because it's difficult for people outside of the government to get access to the reactor.

      > If it had been in the UK, would a cold chill have fallen on relations between the UK and the West?

      Well, UK *is* part of the West. That aside, no, the US and UK h
      • by RAMMS+EIN (578166)
        ``> Why is it so bad the reactor was in Russia?

        Because now it looks like Putin had one of his critics offed.''

        From what I heard, it looked like that already. I don't see how this makes it any more plausible; or, more accurately, I don't see how the polonium _not_ coming from Russia would have convinced anyone that it doesn't have anything to do with Putin.

        ``Well, UK *is* part of the West. That aside, no, the US and UK have really good relations (and fairly similar stances on these kind of assassinations
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 02, 2006 @02:49PM (#17081988)
    in soviet russia the... hang on, I'm not feeling to well... /slumps over keyboarddddddddddddddddddddd...
  • So who's next? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by FishandChips (695645) on Saturday December 02, 2006 @03:07PM (#17082140) Journal
    London - Londonistan - is now home to a large Russian community as well as a simply huge floating population of "businessmen" and chancers from all over the world. It's hardly a surprise that from time to time they turn out to bring somewhat unorthodox business practices with them as well as some undeclared duty-free items fresh from the reactor core. A former British Intelligence boss has pointed out that this is about the tenth high-profile contract killing involving Russians and not a single one has been solved. Besides, poisoning is a particularly dark crime and appeals to the ghoul in most of us, hence a lot of the publicity.

    I think people forget the massive loss of face the Russians suffered when communism collapsed. Perhaps the Kremlin want to repair some of that damage and get back to what they believe Russia should be doing, which is running the world and dictating its energy policies. I guess the good news is that the Russians are usually too disorganized and hung-over to be much good at that.
  • All of this could be a publicity stunt for the next Bond film? We probably won't find out who was really behind these sinister actions until........ you go see the movie
  • It seems that many people here believe that using Polonium is "too easily traced" means that someone is setting-up Putin's government. Is it not possible that Putin's government used such a method in order to get people to say "It can't have been Putin, someone is trying to get us to attack faction-x...", thus attacking said faction and getting rid of Putin's enemies?

    Of course, Putin's enemies may well have thought of this themselves. Perhaps it's faction-y, turning the world against both Putin and facti
  • oh... (Score:2, Funny)

    those whacky Russians
  • by aepervius (535155) on Saturday December 02, 2006 @03:56PM (#17082596)
    When you have a radioactive material created in a reactor, say plutonium, by measuring the quantity of the different isotopes and their half life by product, you can determine from which reactor they come (that is if you have the data) and even "when". Now in that case that would mean they have traced a cocktail of element beside the polonium and the "ratio" match the polonium produced by that particular reactor. What make it a bit implausible for me is that we are speaking of really small quantity here from stuff which have a half life beyond a year... And especially if you refine the polonium and separate it from the rest.

    I also have an opinion on that murder if it interrest anybody :
    I have a conspiracy theory for you: foe of putin where seeing that putin position wasn't that bad right now, and they wanted a quick way to dredge dirt on him. So they procurated polonium then killed a resident in another country which was a vocal agaisnt Putin in a so SPECTACULAR way that it will be for a long time all over the media with all finger pointing at Putin. I do not see what Putin wins by making it so spectacular. True other vocal group might get afraid, but with it all over the media they might be emboldened to go forward and be more vocal, so that it will be even more difficult to elimnate them. No I think an old fashionned car "incident" and an old fashionned "push" in a train station at rush hour or an even more old fashionned slithing of throat would give as much a signal to the other vocal people without even being able to point finger at Russia. But polonium ??? Come on, they could have as well have tatooed "Putin killed me" on the forehead of the guy. This is why I think it is more convoluted and simply guys wanting to pee on putin did this to slime him all over. It looks like it was a total success from what I see in our media...
  • by Wilson_6500 (896824) on Saturday December 02, 2006 @05:32PM (#17083476)
    The Health Physics Society has produced a fact sheet [hps.org] (PDF-format) for Po-210. The information is fairly basic, but it's a starting point if you want to explain about the nuclide to someone who isn't very familiar with nuclear science.
  • by istartedi (132515) on Saturday December 02, 2006 @06:21PM (#17083882) Journal

    You're a major nation, and you can't pull off a simple hit? I mean, it's pure evil, but if somebody gave me the job I don't think it would take me too long to find a mobster, tap into his network, and get a decent hit-man who could pull off a plausible "robbery" where the guy got shot, or a car "accident" or even the good old standby like a bomb wired into the ignition. But NooooOOO. They had to go scattering radioactivity that would produce collataral damage, potentially ruining international relationships, and best of all... leaving a trail of radioactive breadcrumbs leading right back to the source!

    What are they going to do to the guy who came up with that idea? Send him to China and then explode a dirty bomb in his apartment in downtown Beijing?

    • An unremarkable death of a dissident by random accident, common crime, or seemingly natural causes makes no notoriety. It might get rid of the immediate disident, but it will not prevent other disidents from 'causing trouble'. Killing a disident via a not-so-subtle and paticularly gruesome manner sends an unmistakeable message. The message is 'obey, or this could be you'. Killing him overseas means 'we can get you anywhere, anytime'. They want people to know, because fear is an effective means of suppressi
  • by avi33 (116048) on Saturday December 02, 2006 @10:12PM (#17085620) Homepage
    Um. Most of the world's Polonium 210 comes from Russia. It can be made anywhere, but according to this article (frr) [nytimes.com], it's an industrial commodity produced cheaply in Russia:

    In Tennessee, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory sells dozens of types of rare nuclear materials to American manufacturers. But Bill Cabage, a lab spokesman, said it sold no polonium 210 because Russia was able to do so much more inexpensively.

    "That's typical" of exotic radioisotopes, he said. "We can't compete with their prices."
    Furthermore, this substance could be extracted from off the shelf anti-static devices, and still be "traced" to a Russian source. Nothing to see here, the chill the poster felt was their own lack of understanding.

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