2 What Happened…1/ He eats raw fish and starts vomiting. He probably has food poisoning.11/ He’s much worse. He has enemies. He may have been poisoned BU* with what?17/ His hair falls out. Thallium causes hair loss, and it destroys white blood cells.21/ His x-rays are clear. It can’t be thallium. It looks like radiation sickness, but he’s not radio-active.23/ His urine radioactive. He may have swallowed an alpha source. His skin was blocking the radiation.24/ We’ve checked the decay rate. It’s definitely polonium-210.
3 Polonium-210Polonium is a soft silvery grey metal, like the metals near it in the Periodic Table. It makes white salts and some of these dissolve.Polonium has 25 isotopes with different numbers of neutrons. They all have 84 protons is the isotope’s mass number-which shows it has 126 neutrons.Alpha particles disrupt DNA and destroy dividing cells, so your hair falls out and your vital organs fail.Polonium-210 is a radio-isotope because its nucleus is unstable. Sooner or later it decays. Particles of hazardous alpha radiation get emitted, and the nucleus becomes lead-206. The number of polonium-210 atoms halves every 138 days.Alpha radiation cant get through your skin, but polonium-210 can kill you from inside the body. The metal itself is toxic- like lead and mercury- but the radiation adds to the damage. 1 microgram, the size of a speck of dust, could be fatal.
4 Continued… Where does Polonium-210 usually occur? It has mainly industrial uses such as static control and as a heat source for satellite power supplies, however it is not available in these areas in a form of conducive to easy poisoning.It is also present in tobacco, but it is required in large amounts to poison someone and this would need to be man-made, perhaps from particle accelerator or nuclear reactor.Where would someone obtain polonium-210 from?Although it occurs naturally in the environment, acquiring enough of it to kill would require individuals with expertise and connections. It would also need sophisticated lab facilities and access to a nuclear reactor.Alternatively, it could be obtained from a commercial supplier.Polonium-210 can be extracted from rocks containing radioactive uranium or separated chemically from the substanceradium-226.
5 Spy Hours From Death…The spy, Alex Litvinenko, fell ill on 1st November after meeting two Russians for tea in Grosvenor Square, and also meeting an Italian defence expert at a sushi bar in Piccadilly.The Russian dissident who was only aged 43, suffered a cardiac failure overnight in intensive care at University College Hospital and was on a ventilator.It was first thought that the spy had been given radioactive thallium, a heavy metal which attacked his bone marrow, liver and immune system and as a result caused hair loss.However, the mystery surrounding his illness continued when the hospital admitted they remained no nearer finding out what was causing the sudden illness. The director of critical care at the hospital, Dr Geoff Bellingham, ruled out thallium as the cause and said radiation poisoned was unlikely.Later it was discovered that the cause of, Alex Litvinenko’s death had actually been the radioactive metal, Polonium-210.