Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Science Government News Politics

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.
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

UK Lab Traces Polonium To Russian Nuclear Plant

Comments Filter:
  • And so... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Omeger (939765) on Saturday December 02, 2006 @01:25PM (#17081726) Journal
    The Second Cold War begins...
  • by Peter Cooper (660482) on Saturday December 02, 2006 @01:27PM (#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.
  • Well... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by PieSquared (867490) <isosceles2006 AT gmail DOT com> on Saturday December 02, 2006 @01:31PM (#17081776)
    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 way to go.

    Also of note is that the Russian government is perfectly aware that we can trace radioactive elements to their source. They also know that if you spray an area with mist then lead your target through the area that the person leading will *also* get sprayed with the same mist.

    To me this whole thing seems just a bit wrong... while it was by no means a simple plot, it doesn't seem to have been very well thought out if it was done by the Russian government. Unless of course it *wasn't* done by the Russian government, or even by someone who wants relations between the west and the Russians to deteriorate. I'm not normally a big fan of conspiracy theories and I certainly can't think of anyone who would benefit...

    The only logical thing I can think of is a rouge person or small group with a grudge against the former spy.
  • by LiquidCoooled (634315) on Saturday December 02, 2006 @01:33PM (#17081808) Homepage Journal
    I doubt they cannot determine which reactor produced the material based upon the alpha radiation pattern, but it might be possible if they actually have an actual sample (for instance removed from his stomach).
  • by EzraSj (993720) on Saturday December 02, 2006 @01:34PM (#17081820)
    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 convert ways to do it. Poisons that are just as effective and less traceable, bullets, hell even a car bomb would have been better. The fact that someone went to all the trouble of using polonium to do the deed makes this either a well funded and stupid assassin, or a well funded assassin whose true ends are much more complicated than simply killing a retired KGB man.
  • by b0s0z0ku (752509) on Saturday December 02, 2006 @01:37PM (#17081850)
    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.

    Could the guy have been smuggling radioisotopes using the same method as drug mules (condoms full of product) and had an "accident"? Polonium is an alpha emitter, and is thus not dangerous unless absorbed. And a condom would block the alpha particles quite nicely. I'm not sure how bioavailable pure polonium is, but if it were in the form of a salt, I could see it getting absorbed in fatal quantities.

    -b.

  • More like... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 02, 2006 @01:40PM (#17081868)
    ...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 with a war on East Asia.

  • by reporter (666905) on Saturday December 02, 2006 @01:47PM (#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.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 02, 2006 @01:52PM (#17082012)
    Antiwar has an interesting article [antiwar.com] on who may be behind the murder:

    In an assassination, one must ask: Cui bono? To whose benefit? Who would gain from the poisoning of Litvinenko?

    What benefit could Putin conceivably realize from the London killing of an enemy of his regime, who had just become a British citizen? Why would the Russian president, at the peak of his popularity, with his regime awash in oil revenue and himself playing a strong hand in world politics, risk a breach with every Western nation by ordering the public murder of a man who was more of a nuisance than a threat to his regime?

    Yet, listening to some Western pundits on the BBC and Fox News, one would think Putin himself poisoned Litvinenko. Who else, they ask, could have acquired polonium-210, the rare radioactive substance used to kill Litvinenko? Who else had the motive to eliminate the ex-agent who had dedicated his life to exposing the crimes of the Kremlin?

    I like the smell of propaganda in the morning.
  • by bcc123 (550310) on Saturday December 02, 2006 @02:00PM (#17082068) Journal

    Why would the US want anything to do with it? This is an issue between the UK and Russia.
    US is for strong sanctions against Iran over their nuclear program. Russia is against such sanctions. EU is somewhat-maybe-possibly... On top of that, US is against the sale of air defense weapons to Iran, because it would obviously make it harder to invade. So what do we have? A big scare is started in Europe that involves "Russia" and "nuclear". Given that an average person won't care for the difference between palladium and uranium -- they both sound scary, the timing of the whole thing is really weird. It seems like a really dumb thing for the Russian government to do... at this time. Especially since all the time-tested methods for taking care of people like burglary or car accidents are as available as they ever were. Now let's think who could benefit from this situation?
  • So who's next? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by FishandChips (695645) on Saturday December 02, 2006 @02:07PM (#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.
  • by NeutronCowboy (896098) on Saturday December 02, 2006 @02:30PM (#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.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 02, 2006 @02:31PM (#17082340)
    Russian reactors make the vast majority of the world's polonium 210, and it is sold worldwide. The fact that this polonium came from Russia is evidence of absolutely nothing.
  • Re:More like... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by JavaLord (680960) on Saturday December 02, 2006 @03:21PM (#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.

  • hes a spy! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by benicillin (990784) on Saturday December 02, 2006 @03:22PM (#17082842)
    Have I missed something? A former spy gets killed by the country he was spying on/for/whatever... were talking about spies, they trick whomever they can to make a buck. Now, he got killed by the person he tricked. What's the big deal? This is not abnormal. If he was spying on the US we might have just offed him ourselves via the legal system. [news.com.au]
  • by JavaLord (680960) on Saturday December 02, 2006 @03:32PM (#17082926) Journal
    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 was going to be traced to them? Perhaps the murder of Anna Politkovskaya did not send the message loudly enough that they were trying to get out, It doesn't matter where in the world you hide, you will be killed and it will be painful.

    Even with this traced back to Russia, Putin has enough plausible deniability to fend off any criticism from the west at this point. The message however is prettty clear if you've been following who has been shot or posioned in the Russian media lately.
  • by rumith (983060) on Saturday December 02, 2006 @03:44PM (#17083034)
    Keep in mind that Russia is currently in talks regarding joining the WTO. And don't listen to the sweet words - joining WTO is a serious blow, if not instant death for Russian industry and agriculture, and Putin knows it. He can't just plainly refuse - that would be very ill-conceived by both the West and pro-West population in Russia (actually, a significant part of it, if not the majority). That's why he's got to do something disgusting so there is at least one WTO member with a veto right which will have no other way but to block Russia's entry. I believe this was the same reason behind the sudden scandal in Russian-Georgian relations two months ago, since Georgia IIRC is a WTO member with a veto right (again, IIRC, all WTO members have a veto right on such decisions). If everything is as I pictured, this is a very smart move, since Mr.Blair look strange if he didn't veto the decision to accept Russia.
  • Re:And so... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by elucido (870205) on Saturday December 02, 2006 @04:29PM (#17083460)

    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 Cyberax (705495) on Saturday December 02, 2006 @04:50PM (#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:More like... (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 02, 2006 @06:18PM (#17084288)
    We never step twice into the same river. While it's fairly easy to point out historical similarities the essential difference here lies in demographics. In interwar Germany there was a lot of young men, todays Russia on the over hand is slowly dying out (even more so then the west). Right now the population is decreased by almost 1% p.a. and the rate is rising. Most shockingly there are actually more abortions then births (1.6 million to 1.5 million in 2004) so it's a sort of self inflicted genocide.

    Russia isn't physically capable of trying to compete to become a world power, nor is it on it's way to becoming a European democracy. Right now it's turning into a sort of sultanate, relying on the natural resources present on it's vast territory, to blackmail prodemocratic government in neighboring countries like Ukraine and Georgia and keep themselves in power.
  • Re:More like... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by b0s0z0ku (752509) on Saturday December 02, 2006 @07:05PM (#17084654)
    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 incinerator and showed the film of the execution to all new KGB/GRU recruits to encourage loyalty.)

    -b.

  • by Gandalf_the_Beardy (894476) on Saturday December 02, 2006 @08:21PM (#17085300)
    Curies are not a dose - dosage is measured in sieverts. The Wikipedia article fails to appreciate that the specifica activity meantion is over the entire life of the sample, that the sample is biologically eliminated much faster than the half life, and that fatal dose of 4sV has to be a whole body dose, and has to be prompt, not over a time period. I've posted elsewhere the amount needed, but it's more like 3mCi rather than 200uCi
  • by avi33 (116048) on Saturday December 02, 2006 @09:12PM (#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.

  • by dryeo (100693) on Sunday December 03, 2006 @12:25AM (#17086646)
    Actually some people believe that most smoking related cancers are caused by Polonium-210. A pack and a half smoker is exposed to about 8000 mrem a year ( http://nepenthes.lycaeum.org/Drugs/THC/Health/canc er.rad.html [lycaeum.org] )
    caused by polonium-210 and lead-210. This comes from the phosphate fertilizer used by all the big tobacco companies.
    Another interesting site is http://www.acsa2000.net/HealthAlert/radioactive_to bacco.html [acsa2000.net]
    or just google tobacco and polonium
  • Re:More like... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by hughk (248126) on Sunday December 03, 2006 @05:28AM (#17088012) Journal
    Good point. In those days there were a lot of rumours and it would have helped the GRU's reputation for such stories to go round. I've tried to substantiate the story about the execution of Penkovsky and cannot find any other source than Suvorov.

The speed of anything depends on the flow of everything.

Working...