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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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  • 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 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 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 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...
  • 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 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.
  • 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.

  • Re:Well... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by theycallmeB (606963) on Saturday December 02, 2006 @03:10PM (#17082162)
    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 critics what to go do with themselves quite like the long, painful and very public death of one of said critics. Sometimes a contract murder [wikipedia.org] just doesn't get the point across.
  • by westlake (615356) on Saturday December 02, 2006 @03:16PM (#17082210)
    Its still not clear that it was an assassination.
    We still don't know just how much of this polonium is around our normal lives to be worried about the scaremongering.

    Good lord.

    When was the last time you heard of an accidental death traced to ingested Polonium?

    When was the last time you heard of any death caused by radioactive poisoning that couldn't be immediately traced to an industrial accident or something of that sort?

    It's pure coincidence of course when Russian made Polonium kills a Russian dissident living in exile in Britain.

  • 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.
  • Re:Well... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by RexRhino (769423) on Saturday December 02, 2006 @03:33PM (#17082368)
    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 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...
  • Re:More like... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Dobeln (853794) on Saturday December 02, 2006 @04:02PM (#17082642)
    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.

  • by Catbeller (118204) on Saturday December 02, 2006 @04:11PM (#17082720) Homepage
    "he polonium trick almost worked, because the half-life would have made it disappear in a month."

    Well, half of it. oops. Guess that point doesn't hold up in physics. Damned science. A small amount still would have been present for an indefinite period. Still, damned lucky someone grabbed a counter. I assume the hair falling out and the leukemia was a screaming pair of clues.
  • by Catbeller (118204) on Saturday December 02, 2006 @04:39PM (#17082988) Homepage
    "Foreign government secret services kills man. film at 10. Seriously why is it a big deal"

    He was a British citizen, or at least was granted asylum.

    I know that Bush has played into the whole Gen-X apathy towards politics and history, but you have to understand that poisoning another country's citizen is called "an act of war". Really.
  • by rednip (186217) * <[rednip] [at] [gmail.com]> on Saturday December 02, 2006 @04:53PM (#17083118) Journal
    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 vetted with the experts in the community. I believe that it is most likely that they thought that a quick onset of cancer is a lot less likely to make the evening news. Chances are that they didn't anticipate the number or the sensitivity of radiation detectors, nor the astute analysis of the medical staff. I guess that is what happens when you dust off 30 year old assignation plans from the KGB archive.
    The dead guy had a long history of making enemies...
    If this was the first one of Putin's critics to meet a unfortunate end, you might have a point. In fact the first 'official' response (from state controlled media) suggested that he may have committed suicide. Sorta like the proverbial mod boss claim that his dead colleague in the room simply 'fell' on his knife 27 times. To me it looks like it now the Russian voters time to clean house, that is of course if Putin doesn't stop them.

  • by Cyberax (705495) on Saturday December 02, 2006 @06:02PM (#17083710)
    First of all, I'm Russian and I live in Russia.

    You see, Litvinenko, Politkovskaya (and his friend http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boris_Berezovsky [wikipedia.org]) are not real threats to Putin. They are considered 'political corpses' since about 2002. Most people under no circumstances will support either of them.

    But these guys are token 'democracy fighters' for most Westerns who do not know intricacies of Russian politics. Now ask yourself: why would Putin kill them?

    So it's much more complex than you think.
  • by Guppy06 (410832) on Saturday December 02, 2006 @06:17PM (#17083842)
    "But it's so elegant."

    The murder makes headlines the world over before the guy even actually dies, and you call this "elegant?" Elegant compared to what, the average GTA game? More elegant than dropping a piano on his head? WTF?

    You don't get away with murder either with such an exoctic and obvious poison, nor nor by murdering others around him in exactly the same, easily-identifiable way, giving investigators yet more evidence to work with. Elegant would have been some chemical substance that has all the earmarks of heart disease or some other common killer.

    My God, if this is what passes for "elegant" in the field of murder these days, no wonder prisons are overflowing with captured criminals.

    "It's beautiful. Nobody other than state-sponsored assassins would have the resources"

    EXACTLY! Narrows that list of suspects right down, doesn't it? If it weren't for the fact that nuclear security in Russia is a joke, if the Russian government actually did this, they'd have a better chance of deflecting blame and avoiding suspicion if they just sent a MiG over his house to drop a bomb down his chimney!

    If this is a state-sponsored political assassination, this is the worst one evar. Tin-plated generalissimos in banana republics do a better job of disappearing enemies. It is far, far more likely that this was done by somebody with the mentality of a 12 year old in an effort to blame the Russian government for this. Heck, I'd believe that this was done by those who believe themselves to be friends of the Russian government, because then the rationale of the motive would be as stupid as the actual murder.
  • Re:More like... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rednip (186217) * <[rednip] [at] [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.

  • 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?

  • 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, Insightful)

    by rednip (186217) * <[rednip] [at] [gmail.com]> on Saturday December 02, 2006 @11:21PM (#17086014) Journal
    What the state-controlled media is suggesting is that 'some unknown persons killed a leading voice of dissent by an exotic poison in an effort to create negative press for a political leader they all oppose'.

    It is so common among that Japanese they actually have a title for those they do it to. Kamikaze. Terrorists were sacrificed in a similar manner if you believe the official 911..
    These are not comparative examples, first of all movements sacrifice foot soldiers, or innocents not leaders and primary voices of opposition. Second both of your examples are of the 'we'll kill until you surrender' type, and not an orchestrated media ploy.

    There are some who say that Bush (or the Jews) plotted 9/11, but there are also some who still believe OJ is innocent, that aliens do anal probes, and that a Nigerian will make them rich. P. T. Barnum never did say "There's a Sucker Born Every Minute", but whoever did gave a fair estimation of the availability of gullible people.

  • by HighOrbit (631451) * on Sunday December 03, 2006 @01:49AM (#17086770)
    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 suppressing dissent.

    Russia is dangerous. It is nationalistic, it is autocratic, it feels humiliated and condescended upon by the West, it is paranoid, it is jealous, and its economy is fragile and only propped up by the current run-up in oil and gas prices. It only needs a ruthless populist (read 'demagogue') to push it over the edge to full-on fascism. It already has pretext for expansion based up the plight of ethnic russian minorities in its former empire.

    Just a dangerous is that for a nationalist Russia, this would be a rational and likely succesful course of action. Russia need but bluster and Europe will cower, while the US is busy elsewhere. Russia would be able to get away with suppressing internal dissent and perhaps annexing some of their neighbors, and they know it. Europe is not psychologically prepared to fight WW3 over the Baltic nations, or Ukraine, or Trans-Dneister and the Russians know this. They need not fear any UN action because they possess a veto in the Security Council (not that the UN is to be feared by anyone anyway, its last meaningful military action was Korea in the 1950s).
  • Re:More like... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jericho4.0 (565125) on Sunday December 03, 2006 @02:03AM (#17086836)
    The murder was, as they say, 'for domestic consumption'. If I was a Putin critic, I would have got the mesasge.
  • Re:More like... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by rednip (186217) * <[rednip] [at] [gmail.com]> on Sunday December 03, 2006 @04:19AM (#17087472) Journal

    what makes you think a blabber mouth ex-spy and a few journalists are anything other than foot soldiers?

    Because that is all they have; It's not like Washington is going to stand up for the truth, or for that matter Europe. Hell, we are having enough trouble with Iraq as it is, the last thing we need is them to start supplying them with more Russian anti-tank weapons at a reduced cost and the Europeans are more concerned with heating their homes than a new Russian Plutocracy. Like it or not when people who speak up die, others have a tenancy to keep their mouths shut. Frankly, I gave a pausing thought of continuing this thread, and this is even my 'don't talk about myself account' on this site.

    I would be more open to your (and the Russian state media) accusations of 'wag the dog' assignations, if there was some real historical precedent of media coverage of political killings fully bringing down a corrupt government and placing an opposing leadership in power, but there is none. There is no comparative example of it, and there is no solid opposing leadership to exploit it.

    Everything in this story points to a 30 or 40 year old KGB plot, executed by people who were concern that another shooting would be too 'messy'. Thanks in part to 9/11 and planning for 'dirty bomb' officials and medical staff were prepared to spot and trace nuclear attacks. Add to that our new found access to samples from Russian nuclear plants and old KGB assumptions would be moot. I don't know if Putin was directly involved, but every sign says that it was (at least) done on his behalf.

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