Another way of obtaining it is from depleted uranium shells
Sun Nov 26, 2006 21:07

Another way of obtaining it is from depleted uranium shells
Nuclear fallout: Alexander Litvinenko died in agony. Who killed him, and why?
The ex-KGB agent had many enemies, including his former spy colleagues and the Russian President, Vladimir Putin. Those are among the few known facts in an assassination which seems like a sinister replay of the Cold War. Sophie Goodchild reports
Published: 26 November 2006


Experts agree that this was no crime carried out by amateurs. Polonium cannot be obtained by surfing the Web, and has to be used within a limited time, before it loses its impact. Large-scale production such as in a nuclear reactor would be needed to produce sufficient amounts to cause death. Another way of obtaining it is from depleted uranium shells . It is also used in the photographic industry as a static eliminator.

Staff at the hospital where Mr Litvinenko was treated are understood to have used a Geiger counter to determine if he was the victim of radiation but initial tests showed up negative, because polonium cannot be easily detected externally once it has been absorbed.

Dr Andrea Sella, a lecturer in chemistry at University College London, said: "You can't make this at home. This is in a different league. This is not some random killing ... These people had some serious resources behind them."

When news first began circulating that a former Russian security officer had been poisoned in London, the Kremlin was swift to attempt to discredit the story, with officials questioning why it had taken Mr Litvinenko so long to admit himself to hospital. The FSB, Russian legislators and political analysts insisted that the Russian government did not have a credible motive for murdering him.

"Mr Litvinenko was not the kind of person, for whom [it would make sense] to smear bilateral relations," a spokesman for the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, Sergei Ivanov, told Trud newspaper. It "was absolutely not in our interest to do this."

Mr Litvinenko's name had faded in Russia since 1998, when as a young FSB officer with the organised crime unit, he accused his own agency of asking him to assassinate Mr Berezovsky. He spent nine months in prison awaiting trial on charges of abusing his office, but was acquitted and fled to Britain in 2000, where he claimed political asylum.

Gennady Gudkov, a former FSB officer, said killing Mr Litvinenko made no sense for the Russian state. Higher-ranking KGB defectors, such as Oleg Kalugin, have knowledge of potentially deadlier secrets, but "are alive and well" abroad, said Mr Gudkov, who is a member of the State Duma's Security Committee.

Mr Kalugin, chief of the KGB's foreign counterintelligence department from 1973 to 1980, has been living in the US since the mid-1990s. He has openly criticised his former KGB colleagues and testified against US Army Reserve Colonel George Trofimoff. Based on Mr Kalugin's testimony, the officer was convicted of spying for the Soviet Union and sentenced to life in prison in 2001.

Mr Gudkov said that the key to Mr Litvinenko's murder lay in "an inside squabble" in Mr Berezovsky's inner circle. Mr Gudkov stressed that this was his personal opinion, adding that business interests or Mr Berezovsky's desire to smear the Russian state were involved.

The theories about Mr Litvinenko's murder are potentially damaging to both President Putin and Mr Berezovsky, said Valery Khomyakov, general director of the Council on National Strategy, a Moscow-based think-tank.

Mr Khomyakov dismissed theories that Mr Litvinenko was poisoned because he possessed information about the murder of Ms Politkovskaya. He and several other political analysts in Moscow believe the most plausible view is that Mr Litvinenko's former colleagues were avenging his defection. "Many suffered when Mr Litvinenko went public about the alleged plot against Mr Berezovsky," he said.

In a book financed by Mr Berezovsky, Mr Litvinenko accused the FSB of being behind the 1999 Moscow apartment bombings that killed more than 300 people. The atrocity was blamed on Chechens and used to justify Russia's invasion of Chechnya the same year. "This could have been a way to get back at Litvinenko and another former colleague, Putin," Mr Khomyakov said. Mr Putin spent five years spying for the KGB in Germany at the end of the Cold War.

Additional reporting by Maria Levitov in Moscow, Francis Elliott and Raymond Whitaker

Polonium: Fatal dose must have come from nuclear lab

Discovered by Marie Curie in 1898, and named after Poland, her native land, polonium has a silvery appearance and is soluble in liquids.

Polonium-210, the most readily available variant, has a half-life of 138.39 days. Other isotopes of the element can decay in milliseconds. Although it is extremely toxic and highly radioactive - just one milligram would emit as much radiation as five grams of radium - the metal emits short-range alpha rays, which would not be picked up by conventional radiation scanners. It was detected only in Alexander Litvinenko's urine.

Polonium-210 is found naturally in the human body, as well as in tobacco and uranium ore, but in minuscule quantities. Although a tiny speck can be fatal, the amount needed to kill would have to be made in a nuclear laboratory. The metal has to be ingested by breathing, eating or drinking, or through an open wound; it cannot be absorbed by skin contact.

Inside the body, radioactive waves pound cells, destroying them outright or causing genetic mutations. As it decays, polonium-210 generates great heat: half a gram creates 140 watts of energy. The metal was used by the Soviet space programme in the 1970s as a portable heat generator for Lunokhod lunar rovers.


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