Many of you will be aware of the death of the Russian, Alexander Litvinenko who was poisoned by the administration of a dose of Polonium 210, allegedly in some sushi. Much has been made of the fact that a rare and difficult to obtain radioactive element was used – which suggests that the source of the crime had to be someone with significant security clearance in the Russian government.
However, there are problems with this claim.
The simple fact is – that I can obtain some Polonium 210 if I wanted to, and I can assure you that I do not have top secret access to the Russian nuclear industry. I do however have a credit card and an internet access – and all I would have to do is visit United Nuclear, a US based supplier of chemical kits for amateur hobbyists and buy some. It costs $80 to buy a disc of the material.
OK, in technical terms – they wont ship overseas, but what I am trying to show is that for someone to get hold of the material does not require high level government permission.
Why am I writing about this – well, the BBC today has published more “exposes” on the subject and despite my writing to their news office on this matter in the past – they have yet again presumed that the murder had to be organised by high up officials simply because Polonium 210 was used.
The use of lethal polonium “is evidence of state involvement”, the sources are reported to have told the BBC. As they say, “it is not a substance you can pick up at a department store.” Maybe not – but you certainly can buy it over the internet with a credit card.
There is another problem with what is being reported – and I can only go by what is reported in the media as I don’t have access to any unpublished information.
Polonium 210 is an alpha emitter, which is apparently why it took so long to detect as most systems are designed to look for beta emission radiation. As an alpha particle emitter, Polonium is a heck of a good poison – very good in fact. Admittedly, cyanide is much better and easier to deliver – as is a knife or a gun.
Anyhow, according to media reports, there were traces of radiation found all over the place, in the famous sushi bar, in a hotel, on a plane and at Litvinenko’s house.
However, alpha particles can be blocked by nothing more significant than a sheet of cardboard – and even if the container is left open, then the radiation could only travel a few centimeters. So, as a poison inside the body, without any shielding it is very good (indeed in terms of radiation poisoning, it is probably the best out there) – but for the Polonium to have left radiation traces all over the place meant that the person carrying the material had to not only open the container at each venue but almost rub it up and down the walls for a few minutes to leave a trace which could be picked up later.
It just doesn’t add up.
Do I think Litvinenko was poisoned by a dose of Polonium? Well, I have no reason to doubt the doctors on that issue, and while it is an odd way to kill a person, stranger things are possible.
Do I think the use of Polonium is evidence of involvement by the Russian government – absolutely not at all. Maybe they were involved, maybe they weren’t, I don’t know. But the use of a radioactive element that anyone can buy over the internet is not sufficient evidence for me that the government had to have done it.
Finally, the problem of the radioactive contamination in buildings just irks me and feels wrong.
I am not a huge fan of conspiracy theories as they almost always have common sense reasons behind them, and frankly I hope someone is able to explain to me how my musings above are all wrong. However, as most of the media/political case rests on the claimed difficulty of acquiring something which I know to be easy to buy, I am going take some persuading on that specific aspect of the death of Alexander Litvinenko.