Beta
×

Welcome to the Slashdot Beta site -- learn more here. Use the link in the footer or click here to return to the Classic version of Slashdot.

Thank you!

Before you choose to head back to the Classic look of the site, we'd appreciate it if you share your thoughts on the Beta; your feedback is what drives our ongoing development.

Beta is different and we value you taking the time to try it out. Please take a look at the changes we've made in Beta and  learn more about it. Thanks for reading, and for making the site better!

UK Lab Traces Polonium To Russian Nuclear Plant

kdawson posted more than 7 years ago | from the couldn't-make-it-up dept.

Science 413

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.

cancel ×

413 comments

Sorry! There are no comments related to the filter you selected.

And so... (3, Interesting)

Omeger (939765) | more than 7 years ago | (#17081726)

The Second Cold War begins...

More like... (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#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.

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

b0s0z0ku (752509) | more than 7 years ago | (#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:And so... (0)

kharchenko (303729) | more than 7 years ago | (#17082050)

Why? Because a defected spy was assassinated? That's part of the spy game - defectors frequently end up on a hit list, especially if they continue to be involved in the shady affairs.
While I certainly think the whole affair is barbaric, it's hardly unusual. Perhaps the method of poisoning is, but that should raise more curiosity than alarm.

Re:And so... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17082316)

Thank you for your insightful analysis, James. Or should I call you double-0?

Will Bush back America away (0, Troll)

LiquidCoooled (634315) | more than 7 years ago | (#17081728)

And avert anything possible from this, or will it stand by its lapdog?

Why Is This In Politics??!! (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17081734)

The Slashdot FAQ says the politics section is for stories related to US Government politics. This story has no political connection at all, US or otherwise.

So far, nobody can positively implicate the Russian government being involved here. It's premature to start pointing the finger before all the facts are in.

In any case, this isn't really news for nerds. kdawson must be the alias of kos. He has done nothing but use slashdot as his political blog since he started.

Re:Why Is This In Politics??!! (1)

b0s0z0ku (752509) | more than 7 years ago | (#17081804)

The Slashdot FAQ says the politics section is for stories related to US Government politics. This story has no political connection at all, US or otherwise.

Relations between the West and Russia (though weakened, it's still got 50% or so of the world's nukes!) are definitely an appropriate story for "Politics". If there's no section for non-US politics, perhaps the editors should start one. This may have been a predominately US site at one time, but it is no longer, and politics of other countries are fair game IMHO.

-b.

Where is the reactor? (4, Insightful)

interiot (50685) | more than 7 years ago | (#17081736)

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?

Re:Where is the reactor? (-1, Troll)

LiquidCoooled (634315) | more than 7 years ago | (#17081766)

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.
Maybe all planes contain traces of it, maybe different sinks for it exist within products we buy.

Maybe you are infected too.

Re:Where is the reactor? (2, Interesting)

b0s0z0ku (752509) | more than 7 years ago | (#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.

Re:Where is the reactor? (1)

mmontour (2208) | more than 7 years ago | (#17081940)

We still don't know just how much of this polonium is around our normal lives to be worried about the scaremongering. Maybe all planes contain traces of it,

There will be some natural polonium-210 anywhere that has radon gas in the air, or uranium in the soil. It's also found in cigarette smoke. I don't know how the natural concentration compares to the 'traces' that are being reported in this case.

Re:Where is the reactor? (4, Informative)

MillionthMonkey (240664) | more than 7 years ago | (#17082160)

You're thinking of polonium-218, with the radon. Its half life is 3 minutes. Polonium-210 is different. It's a popular radioisotope for 3 reasons:

1. Its half life is a convenient 120 days or something (not microseconds or decades).
2. It decays to lead 208 which is stable.
3. It is a pure alpha emitter (no beta or gamma) which makes it relatively safe to handle as long as you do not ingest it.

Polonium-218 has none of these properties.

They sell small amounts of polonium-210 in those little plastic red disks you find in high school chem labs. United Nuclear [unitednuclear.com] was selling them for like $69. You'd need to buy a lot of disks to kill a Russian spy.

Re:Where is the reactor? (5, Insightful)

westlake (615356) | more than 7 years ago | (#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.

Re:Where is the reactor? (5, Insightful)

WarlockD (623872) | more than 7 years ago | (#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.

Re:Where is the reactor? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17082020)

>>> "US has more issues with Iraq and Iran to worry about it"

Why would the US want anything to do with it? This is an issue between the UK and Russia.

Re:Where is the reactor? (4, Interesting)

bcc123 (550310) | more than 7 years ago | (#17082068)

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?

THIS WHOLE ARTICLE IS FUD (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#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:Where is the reactor? (0, Troll)

thestudio_bob (894258) | more than 7 years ago | (#17082348)

Well, what is supposed to happen is that the remaining powers unite with economic and political sanctions, but as we all know, this rarely happens. Unless of course it's against America.

If governments are united in punishing Russia, then theoretically the people of Russia would hopefully do something (protest or with a vote) to remove the bad guys from government. And our governments would do everything they could do to protect the nations that may be affected from the retaliation from Russia.

It doesn't much matter.... (5, Insightful)

Marnhinn (310256) | more than 7 years ago | (#17081832)

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...

UK lab declines to name specific nuclear plant. (4, Interesting)

reporter (666905) | more than 7 years ago | (#17081974)

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.

Re:UK lab declines to name specific nuclear plant. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17082194)

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.

Such as ?
Russia has Europe over a barrel (pun intended) with regards to energy reliance. The US isn't going to reignite the Cold War over the death of one spook. China is exceedingly unlikely to be up in arms about whacking dissenters.

As messages go, this delivers "we can get you anytime, anywhere, any way, so STFU and keep your head down" loud and clear. The desired result, I suspect.

Re:Where is the reactor? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17082138)

Russia produces 8 grams of Polonium-210 monthly and sells it all to US [kentucky.com] :

Russia exports 8 grams of polonium-210 monthly, all to the United States. He said there had been no exports to Britain in five years.

So where did Polonium-210 come from?

I like propaganda as much as the next guy but it reminds me too much of the hysteria preceding the Iraq war [blogspot.com] .

A cold chill in relations? (4, Interesting)

Peter Cooper (660482) | more than 7 years ago | (#17081742)

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.

Re:A cold chill in relations? (4, Insightful)

b0s0z0ku (752509) | more than 7 years ago | (#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.

Re:A cold chill in relations? (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17082108)

Plus, if you build more nuclear stations you'll have your own supply of Polonium-210 with which to poison the Russians!

Re:A cold chill in relations? (1)

joe 155 (937621) | more than 7 years ago | (#17082212)

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 off investment in this stuff in a serious way. There is a need to get rid of NIMBYism so we can protect ourselves into the future.

As a side note I think with a one off investment of 100Billion pounds the government could create a state owned company which sells energy at a competitive price and gives future dividens (in the same way owning shares works) to everyone in the country. I think we could raise that much money with a one off super tax...

Re:A cold chill in relations? (1)

drsquare (530038) | more than 7 years ago | (#17082302)

All the nuclear power stations in the world won't help when you need gas to heat your house and cook your food.

What do you mean by "we" Euro Ranger? (1)

0b1knob (927658) | more than 7 years ago | (#17081908)

Russians using their natural gas pipeline for political blackmail? You sound like Ronald Reagan.

Re:Business opportunity (1)

arthurpaliden (939626) | more than 7 years ago | (#17082080)

Start purchasing natural gas from Newfoundland, Canada by build LNG tankers or an undersea pipeline from Newfoundland, to Greenland, to Iceland, to England. Problem solved.

Re:Business opportunity (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17082240)

Yes, and do it in two weeks before Russians shut off gas - problem solved. So simple.

Re:A cold chill in relations? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17082096)

The following article says that British storage capacity is at 96% and the winter is predicted to be mild...

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/5402370.stm [bbc.co.uk]

Maybe it's not as bigger problem as you make out?

Re:A cold chill in relations? (1)

radl33t (900691) | more than 7 years ago | (#17082176)

Join the 20th (or 21st) centrury and heat your homes with waste heat. ASk your neighbors how it's done. Natural gas is for sissies and it was the wrong infrastructure to develop. This was known 40 years ago.

Re:A cold chill in relations? (5, Insightful)

Mateo_LeFou (859634) | more than 7 years ago | (#17082222)

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:A cold chill in relations? (1)

spyfrog (552673) | more than 7 years ago | (#17082238)

Some European countries have been smart enough to not fall for the Russina gas lure.
I am glad we don't trust them for historic reasons.

This is scarier than RFID (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17081748)

I had no idea they could do traces like this! I'm considering scramming my home reactor right now. Does anyone know how they accomplish this tracing technically? Could this lead to a move against people exercising their constitutional rights to home doomsday devices?

Re:This is scarier than RFID (2, Interesting)

LiquidCoooled (634315) | more than 7 years ago | (#17081808)

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).

Re:This is scarier than RFID (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17081982)

Since polonium 210 atoms are indistinguishable, the only way to "trace" its origin would be to follow a trail of polonium 210 on the ground from source to destination, or to compare the signature impurities (other elements/isotopes) of the polonium with the signature impurities of each possible source of it.

A question I have about the poisoning? (1)

technoextreme (885694) | more than 7 years ago | (#17081752)

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:A question I have about the poisoning? (1)

Ma8thew (861741) | more than 7 years ago | (#17081812)

Alpha sources are hazardous because they are highly ionizing, therefore any source which emits alpha particles is dangerous to swallow. However, I do not know weather Polonium 210 has other properties which make it poisonous.

Re:A question I have about the poisoning? (2, Informative)

ATMD (986401) | more than 7 years ago | (#17082038)

I understand it's a biochemical poison, too.

From the editorial [newscientist.com] of this week's New Scientist:
Polonium-210 is not a substance to mess with. Weight for weight it is 250 billion times as toxic as hydrogen cyanide. It is chemically poisonous and a potent source of alpha particles. As these collide with other particles they generate heat: 140 watts per gram of the isotope. In the body, energetic alphas smash up DNA and interfere with cell division. Just 120 nanograms can deliver a fatal dose of radiation.

Re:A question I have about the poisoning? (1)

m94mni (541438) | more than 7 years ago | (#17081836)

Alpha radiation is always dangerous.

"Because of this high mass and strong absorption, however, if alpha radiation does enter the body (most often because radioactive material has been inhaled or ingested), it is the most destructive form of ionizing radiation. It is the most strongly ionizing, and with large enough doses can cause any or all of the symptoms of radiation poisoning. It is estimated that chromosome damage from alpha particles is about 100 times greater than that caused by an equivalent amount of other radiation. The alpha emitter polonium-210 is suspected of playing a role in lung and bladder cancer related to tobacco smoking."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alpha_particle [wikipedia.org]

See also

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polonium-210 [wikipedia.org]

Note that Polonium-210 is *also* a chemical poison, which is not true for all alpha sources. I do believe the alpha radiation is the big issue.

Re:A question I have about the poisoning? (1)

Spazntwich (208070) | more than 7 years ago | (#17081872)

I am not a scientist of any sort, but the way I understand it, any alpha emitter (of sufficient radioactivity) isn't something you want making its way through your digestive tract.

While alpha particles may be very easy to stop by our skin on the outside, once in you, there's enough of the little bastards to really rearrange your DNA in the cells that come in close contact to the source.

Re:A question I have about the poisoning? (2, Informative)

b0s0z0ku (752509) | more than 7 years ago | (#17081878)

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.

Re:A question I have about the poisoning? (5, Informative)

RsG (809189) | more than 7 years ago | (#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.

Further clarification (1)

technoextreme (885694) | more than 7 years ago | (#17081936)

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.

Re:Further clarification (1)

m94mni (541438) | more than 7 years ago | (#17082024)

Smoking is one way:

"The alpha emitter polonium-210 is suspected of playing a role in lung and bladder cancer related to tobacco smoking."

And as the article mentions: "The amount of polonium 210 found is of immediate concern as a risk to the man's health, rather than a lower dose that may pose a latent cancer risk"

So exposer to lesser amounts is still potentially dangerous. When it comes to smoke detectors, the amount must be way too small to pose any danger, plus you don't swallow it, and the radiation won't reach you.

Re:Further clarification (4, Informative)

RsG (809189) | more than 7 years ago | (#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?

Re:Further clarification (5, Interesting)

NeutronCowboy (896098) | more than 7 years ago | (#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.

Re:A question I have about the poisoning? (1)

hairykrishna (740240) | more than 7 years ago | (#17081888)

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.

Re:A question I have about the poisoning? (1)

Vellmont (569020) | more than 7 years ago | (#17082126)


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.

Disturbing? (1)

orkysoft (93727) | more than 7 years ago | (#17081760)

It'd be disturbing if the Polonium came from the reactor in Petten (which makes medical isotopes for most of Europe), but Russia was already suspected to be behind this assassination, so I'd hardly call this result disturbing.

Wrong link (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17081762)

The linked article does not say anthing about the origin of the poison?

Well... (2, Interesting)

PieSquared (867490) | more than 7 years ago | (#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.

Re:Well... (3, Informative)

CRCulver (715279) | more than 7 years ago | (#17081866)

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... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17081886)

No offense, but what makes you think that you (or anyone else on Slashdot) has any idea what's really going on here? Do you have some sort of insight into the world of international spies that the rest of us don't? No, of course not. So whatever "logical" conclusion you've come up with isn't going to carry any weight, sorry to say. One important part of logic is established facts; other than the fact that the man was poisoned, and that the polonium came from Russia, you quite literally have no other information available to you. Your logical conclusion is, at best, an uneducated guess.

Re:Well... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17081900)

Acording to United Nuclear (http://www.unitednuclear.com/isotopes.htm) Polonium 210 has a half-life of only 138 days. This is pretty short and indicates that the matieral must have been created quite recently to still be so dangerous. It is therefore almost certain that this cannot have been in storage since the old days of the USSR.

Re:Well... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17081902)

Polonium-210 has half-life of 138 days, so it is safe to assume it was created rather recently.

Re:Well... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17081906)

Polonium-210 has a half life of aproxx. 138 days. If it came from the Soviet Union it'd be practically worthless by now.

Re:Well... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17081932)

"When" is possible to determine with radioactive materials because of their half-life. Polonium 210 has a half-life of 138.376 days, so by determining it's current radioactivity, you can tell a lot about the materials past.

Re:Well... (1)

vondo (303621) | more than 7 years ago | (#17082182)

No, you can't. As someone else pointed out, you have to look at the ratio of polonium to its decay product. In this case, the decay product is lead, which is naturally occuring. Considering the small dose of Po 210 needed to kill someone, my guess is that measuring this ratio and correcting for the naturally occuring amount is going to be difficult. But looking at the activity is worthless in and of itself.

Re:Well... (5, Informative)

KingArthur10 (679328) | more than 7 years ago | (#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:Well... (2, Informative)

Vellmont (569020) | more than 7 years ago | (#17082094)


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".

There's another possibility that the natural Pb 206 in the body would so outnumber the Pb 206 from the Po 210 decay that you wouldn't get a meaningfull answer.

Re:Well... (2, Insightful)

theycallmeB (606963) | more than 7 years ago | (#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.

motives (1)

Scrameustache (459504) | more than 7 years ago | (#17082186)

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:Well... Po-110 : 138 day 1/2 life. (1)

DogFacedJo (949100) | more than 7 years ago | (#17082272)

Hence it was made recently.

  It will even likely be possible, based on the ratios of products to Po-10, to calculate quite accurately when the Polonium was produced and refined.

    Polonium works a lot better when folks with resources don't notice it. The victim turns up dead, mysteriously. In this situation it has been making regular world news, and the stuff has left a sparkly trail. Hopefully right back to whoever converted it into a poison from the less leaky compounds that it is normally kept in.

Bad for nuclear energy (5, Insightful)

Dr. Eggman (932300) | more than 7 years ago | (#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.

Re:Bad for nuclear energy (4, Informative)

b0s0z0ku (752509) | more than 7 years ago | (#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.

Re:Bad for nuclear energy (1)

Jugalator (259273) | more than 7 years ago | (#17082306)

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.

The thing is... (1)

TheGreatHegemon (956058) | more than 7 years ago | (#17081810)

It doesn't matter whether or not Russia was directly involved now. They NOW have a DIRECT link to Russia - there is a solid connection. Whether or not it was Russia's central government that caused it now doesn't matter, the thought now exists solidly.

My theory of what's going on here (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17081818)

This is pretty obviously a KGB-style hit. It's too complex to be otherwise.

But it's so elegant. My guess is they poisoned him on multiple occasions. They probably had no good way to poison just him, and didn't want an international bloodbath on their hands. So they poison him and everyone around them multiple times, with a poison that doesn't break down and stays in the body for weeks or months (polonium-210 fits this bill perfectly.) The other people they poison don't get enough of a dose to show symptoms, but after a while, their target has a lethal amount in his blood stream, and there's not much anyone can do.

It's beautiful. Nobody other than state-sponsored assassins would have the resources (polonium 210 is not exactly easy to come by,) knowledge (it's not exactly easy to deliver either) or reach to pull something like this off. I'm starting to think they wanted to get caught too, just to prove to any critics of Russia that they are not safe anywhere.

This hit was designed to send one message to anyone who might think otherwise: don't fuck with Russia.

Could Putin ever be so stupid? (2, Interesting)

EzraSj (993720) | more than 7 years ago | (#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.

Re:Could Putin ever be so stupid? (5, Insightful)

Ryan Amos (16972) | more than 7 years ago | (#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.

Re:Could Putin ever be so stupid? (1)

EzraSj (993720) | more than 7 years ago | (#17081938)

I guarantee you that all the ex-KGB would have heard about Litivinenko's murder whether it was sensational or not. They are ex-spies, after all, and they probably worry about this stuff often enough to keep it on their radar. Why would this hypothetical assassin need to involve the international media in a spectacular murder and give Russia a black eye in the process?

Re:Could Putin ever be so stupid? (4, Insightful)

hairykrishna (740240) | more than 7 years ago | (#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.

Gah! Not more on the Polonium! (3, Insightful)

qwertyman66 (1005175) | more than 7 years ago | (#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.

Italian Contact Safe (2, Informative)

JymmyZ (655273) | more than 7 years ago | (#17081858)

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]

... And Russia sells all Polonium-210 to US (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17081880)

If I remember correcly Russia produces 8 grams of Polonium-210 monthly and sells it all to US [kentucky.com] :

Russia exports 8 grams of polonium-210 monthly, all to the United States. He said there had been no exports to Britain in five years.

So where did Polonium-210 come from?

I like propaganda as much as the next guy but it reminds me too much of the hysteria preceding the Iraq war [blogspot.com] .

Disturbing report? (1)

ScentCone (795499) | more than 7 years ago | (#17081894)

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).

it's so convenient.... (1)

vleo (7933) | more than 7 years ago | (#17081904)

Ok, so, Putin, former KGB officer, and VERY stupid person it seems, of all substances available to KGB had so conveniently chosen one that is easy to trace exactly to the source, even to a precise reactor in Russia. Now, had this whole thing been planned and done by his political opponents, they would have used some untracable and non-detactable poison, like it was done by the KGB in that past. But because it's APPARENTLY Putin, he used the one that is easy to trace back to him.
Since it's West/Russia realtions we are talking about there is no need for "innocent until proven guilty" concept, I see...

But why (1)

wheels4u (585446) | more than 7 years ago | (#17081924)

Why would you use a hard to handle radioactive material to kill someone. But for "ponting at" Russia it's great because of tracability. A small pellet of nerve poison would make more sense. Security at Russian powerplants are not that strict because lack of funding, so getting polonium should not be too hard if absolutely want it and know the right (wrong in Litvenenko's case) people.

Re:But why (1)

b0s0z0ku (752509) | more than 7 years ago | (#17082074)

Why would you use a hard to handle radioactive material to kill someone.

Hard to handle? Nah - remember that it's not lethal unless you basically ingest it in sufficient quantity. You could put an eyedropper full of a polonium salt solution in his food when he was taking a leak and absorb maybe 1/10000 of the quantity that he got.

-b.

Why? (1)

RAMMS+EIN (578166) | more than 7 years ago | (#17081968)

``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?

Re:Why? (1)

Aurisor (932566) | more than 7 years ago | (#17082048)

> 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 have really good relations (and fairly similar stances on these kind of assassinations (for the most part, actions in south america and the middle east aside)). They're likely to accuse Russia of this, and Russia will most likely take great offense. Russo-american relations are already strained over the cold war.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cold_War [wikipedia.org]

His Contact... (1)

AndyAndyAndyAndy (967043) | more than 7 years ago | (#17081970)

According to Reuters [reuters.com] ...

"LONDON (Reuters) - Initial tests on an Italian contact of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko show no sign of radiation poisoning, a British hospital said on Saturday.

Mario Scaramella was admitted to hospital in London when polonium 210, the same radioactive substance that killed Litvinenko, was detected in his body.
...
"He is well. Preliminary tests so far show no evidence of radiation toxicity," a spokesman for London's University College Hospital said of Scaramella. Further tests are due to be carried out over the weekend."

The article does not say what the summary says (1)

gus2000 (177737) | more than 7 years ago | (#17081986)

Neither of the linked articles contains the information in the summary. I was not able to find this information in any other articles during a search either. Regardless of who assassinated the man, this particular summary on slashdot seems to be nothing but a provocation. Editors, RTFA before posting!

Re:The article does not say what the summary says (1)

m94mni (541438) | more than 7 years ago | (#17082044)

Huh?

The bloomberg article certainly contains this: "'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.'"

The first link does... (1)

Junta (36770) | more than 7 years ago | (#17082076)

In the last paragraph, RTFA.

That's not to say it is a significant finding yet, as others have pointed out, the material is an exported good so just because they trace it to the reactor does not yet conclusively link it anywhere.

in soviet russia (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17081988)

in soviet russia the... hang on, I'm not feeling to well... /slumps over keyboarddddddddddddddddddddd...

Which reactors (1)

romka1 (891990) | more than 7 years ago | (#17082008)

Its just speculation but one of the London's newspapers, there were 2 places which were mentioned in other articles, 1 didn't have any nuclear plants and another doesn't produce the polonium 210 in its current form but does some preparation on the radioactive elements.
Don't follow every tabloid, especially when the official London investigation didn't post much details yet.

Is Putin Being Set Up? (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#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.

Re:Is Putin Being Set Up? (1)

Eukariote (881204) | more than 7 years ago | (#17082152)

Quite so. It is highly suspect that the main stream media have immediately and massively covered this story, and that the security apparatus is feeding them with novel little factoids on a continual basis. Keeps it festering. Putin aint no saint, but this media campaign reminds me of 9/11, with Islamism, Osama and the hijackers being fingered, pictures and all, before the day was over.

So who's next? (2, Interesting)

FishandChips (695645) | more than 7 years ago | (#17082140)

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.

The strange thing is, why use this method. (1)

arthurpaliden (939626) | more than 7 years ago | (#17082156)

Why use such a bizzare method to kill someone that can be traced so easly. Why not just make him a mugging or hit and run victim.

As a warning to others. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17082330)

It's not a very good warning if people chalk up the killing to a mugger or an accident, or perhaps to pissing off somebody else. It's very clear that he was assassinated, and the particular choice of methods greatly reduces the number of likely suspects running around.

Re:The strange thing is, why use this method. (1)

ToxicBanjo (905105) | more than 7 years ago | (#17082334)

If indeed this was an ordered hit than it's likely a message to all the former and current operatives... "Don't rock the boat or else!". Given that many critics of the administration have been killed or had "accidents" it's definitely not far fetched.

Re:The strange thing is, why use this method. (1)

camperdave (969942) | more than 7 years ago | (#17082352)

Perhaps the killer wanted to create an atmosphere of tension between the UK and Russia. Perhaps the deceased made some comment about eastern bloc nuclear policies, and someone took offense and wanted to make the guy eat his words. ...and let's not forget stupidity, the most common reason of all.

Tinfoil hats (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17082232)

Why does someone use an exotic poison?
To send a message

Why does someone use an exotic radioactive poison?
So it can be traced

This may be a message to Russia as well. Some person or group as access to their intel and can get through their security with ease.
If they can get into a reactor to steal some Polonium and can get into their intel to kill off a spy they've been tracking, who's really in control?

Have you considered (2, Funny)

Adult film producer (866485) | more than 7 years ago | (#17082290)

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

Wrong again. (1)

Cocteaustin (702468) | more than 7 years ago | (#17082326)

The Italian hasn't "fallen ill," he just tested positive for radiation. From the article:

"Tests have detected polonium 210 in Mr Scaramella's body but at a considerably lower level than Mr Litvinenko. He is currently well and shows no symptoms of radiation poisoning. He is receiving further tests over the weekend."
Load More Comments
Slashdot Login

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?

Submission Text Formatting Tips

We support a small subset of HTML, namely these tags:

  • b
  • i
  • p
  • br
  • a
  • ol
  • ul
  • li
  • dl
  • dt
  • dd
  • em
  • strong
  • tt
  • blockquote
  • div
  • quote
  • ecode

"ecode" can be used for code snippets, for example:

<ecode>    while(1) { do_something(); } </ecode>