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Stross on Polonium

2006-11-29 17:59:17.591172+00 by Dan Lyke 5 comments

Over at Genehack, John linked to Charlie Stross on the assassination of Alexander Litvinenko:

The point is, someone with access to fresh Polonium 210 (read: less than a year old, hot from the reactor) decided to use it to bump off an enemy.

And the terrorism alert status hasn't risen a notch? Pull the other one.

I hate to ruin anyone's conspiracy theories, but here in the U.S. the stuff is moderately available and has assorted legitimate civilian uses. Yes, someone was sending a message with the way Litvinenko was killed (and as much as we'd like to call the USSR dead and gone and the cold war over, all governments are democracies and the Russian public has a way to go in their enlightenment), but, no, we shouldn't all be very very afraid because of the way it was done. There are lots of things standing in the way of using a poison like that on a larger scale, and if we panic over the tiny things then we'll kill more people in the stampede than with the actual incitements.

[ related topics: Current Events Conspiracy ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment Re: made: 2006-11-29 18:22:00.849564+00 by: Dan Lyke

Phil Karn gives an approximate lethal dose of 3.4 micrograms, it looks like there are 222.2 micograms of Polonium 210 per Curie, United Nuclear sells it in .1uCi (.1*10E-6) units, which means you'd have to get (and then purify, because it looks like the packaging has quite a bit of extra), about a small delivery van full from that source.

#Comment Re: made: 2006-11-29 20:02:17.252122+00 by: petronius

I've been around Polonium many times. It's very common in Photo Labs. You see these brushes all time. They only have anti-static capability for a year or so before the microscopic amount of isotope decays into uselessness. The stuff is fused into a metalis strip inside the handle, protected by a grill. I suspect you'd need to boil down a carload of brushes to get anywhere near the lethal dose, What fascinates is the baroque nature of the threat. Wouldn't you get your belligerant message across by just shoving the guy in front of a bus, or using arsenic? Why something as wildly arcane as polonium?

#Comment Re: made: 2006-11-29 20:37:20.960167+00 by: meuon

Low chance of detection?

#Comment Re: made: 2006-11-29 20:40:56.669006+00 by: Dan Lyke

On the United Nuclear Isotopes page they estimate needing about 15,000 units of what they sell. So yeah, about a car load.

Getting pushed under a bus, or arsenic, are mundane fears. They could be random. Heck, as someone who grew up with occasional trips in to New York City, making sure that we weren't vulnerable to being pushed in front of the subway was one of those things that was just taught as part of urban survival.

Polonium, this victim, and the prolonged death says "Vladimir Putin can find you anywhere at any time and make your death extremely unpleasant, and get away with it". This isn't a terrorism thing except to probably less than ten people worldwide. This is all about issues of national sovereignty, the reach of states, and whether "the collapse of the Soviet Union" means to the former members of the Politburo what it means to us citizens of the United States.

#Comment Re: made: 2006-12-01 16:17:35.943413+00 by: Dan Lyke

Metafilter proposes Sodium Azide as an easy to acquire really nasty poison.