Tuesday, August 07, 2007

My FAQs on the Litvinenko Case

How did Litvinenko die?

Litvinenko died from damage to his organs caused by the radiation from Polonium 210 .
What is a lethal dose of Polonium 210?
One-millionth of a gram, if it gets in the blood stream.
How many times did Litvinenko ingest Polonium 210?
Although no Coroner’s Report has been yet released, the toxicology tests from the Litvinenko's autopsy reportedly show two separate spikes in his radiation poisoning, indicating that he swallowed Polonium 210 on two different occasions .
Is Polonium 210 a sure-fire poison?
Only if it injected intravenously. If it is ingested in a beverage or with food, it may not prove fatal. The intestine wall blocks about 95 percent of the particles from getting into the blood stream. As it is slow-acting– Litvinenko lived for at least 3 weeks– the lethal radiation can be nullified with available antidotes. In Litvinenko’s case, his illness was diagnosed incorrectly as Thallium poisoning and he was given the wrong antidote (Prussian Blue).
Could a person accidentally be exposed to Polonium 210?
Yes. All six previous cases of fatal Polonium 210 poisoning resulted from an accidental leak of the isotope.
Can Polonium 210 leak from a sealed container?
Yes. The alpha particles from the decaying Polonium 210 produce increasing heat and pressure as they collide with the walls of a container. Over time, that heat and pressure can force an opening in the seal. Once sub-microscopic particles of Polonium 210 leak out, they can attach themselves to dust and spread from person to person, as happened in the Israeli leak in the 1960s.
Is there evidence to support Scotland Yard’s theory that Litvinenko was poisoned by a Russian associate spiking his tea with Polonium 210 at the Pine Bar on November 1st, 2006?
No evidence that has been revealed. According to the Russian prosecutors, no evidence was included in the extradition request..
Was the container in which the Polonium 210 was carried ever found?
What happened to the Polonium 210 ( if any) that remained in the container?
It is still unaccounted for. Since Polonium 210 has a half-life of 134 days , over 90% of it is has turned into its daughter elements, Polonium 208 and Polonium 206 (which are harmless).
Are there any witnesses who saw anyone put anything in Litvinenko’s tea at the Pine Bar?
No, there are no such witnesses. The closest possible witness was Litvinenko, but Litvinenko initially said that he had been poisoned in a Sushi restaurant where he had gone to earlier for lunch that day. (A waiter cited in news accounts as a "witness" said only that his view was blocked.)
Do traces of Polonium 210 found in the Pine Bar mean that Litvinenko was poisoned there?
No, it only means that someone who visited the Pine Bar had previously been in contact with Polonium 210. At least three people, including Litvinenko, who were at the Pine Bar on November 1st had previously been in contact with Polonium 210.
Were traces of Polonium 210 found in other places visited by Litvinenko?
Yes. Traces were found at Litvinenko’s home, the offices of Erinys, where he consulted, and the offices of Berezovsky.

Were "massive amounts" of Polonium 210 found in Litvinenko's body or anywhere else?
No. The Polonium 210 found were tiny specks, measured in millionths of grams.
What is the status of the possible crime scenes by the time the police examined them?
Compromised. The British police did not seal off access to any of them until at least three weeks after Litvinenko had been exposed. During that interval. the areas were repeatedly cleaned and, in the case of the Pine Bar, walked through.
So is there a "trail"?
No, not a chronological one. The traces that were detected in various places only indicate that that those place were visited by a person in contact with Polonium 210.
In June, 2007, British prosecutors asked Russia to extradite Andrei Lugovoi, one of the Russians who met Litvinenko in the tea bar. Could they reasonably expect that Russia would comply?
No. Russia historically has never complied with an extradition request, and extradition is proscribed by its constitution. In this case, it announced it advance of the request that it would be turned down.
Did the British include a Coroner’s Report or any summary of evidence?
Is there a Coroner’s Report establishing the cause of death?
None that has been released.
Is it true that Polonium 210 is available over the Internet?
No. Not in a toxic quantity, Polonium 210 is made in Russian nuclear reactors by bombarding bismuth with neutrons from U-235. Only about 100 grams are produced each year. To keep it from leaking onto the black market, the United States made an arrangement with Russia to import almost all of its production to America. In the US, under tight controls, the Polonium 210 is reduced to traces amounts that contains less that one-ten billionth of a gram and then chemically bonded in plastic or ceramic sheets. It would be virtually impossible to extract Polonium 210 in any toxic quantity from them.
Why is there concern about Polonium 210 reaching the black market?
Polonium 210 could be use to build the initiator for a nuclear bomb. The bomb-builder would also need two other elements, Beryllium and highly enriched Uranium. The Polonium 210 when combined with the Beryllium release the neutrons that start the chain reaction in the highly-enriched Uranium.
Is Russia the only source of Polonium 210?
No, Russia is the only country allowed to produce Polonium 210. But other countries, including Israel, Pakistan and North Korea, could be producing it secretly.
More Questions Please?