[ RadSafe ] Polonium-210 poisoning

Brennan, Mike (DOH) Mike.Brennan at DOH.WA.GOV
Mon Sep 12 11:24:47 CDT 2011

I am glad that my understanding of the situation agrees with Franz's
opinion, as his expertise is far greater than mine (no irony implied;
I'm just a sample grabber who reads stuff).  Processing Po-210 from
radium sources has several non-trivial issues that need to be
considered.  The first is that the decay product of radium is radon,
which is a noble gas.  If the radium source is not constructed in a way
that contains the radium, there will be little ingrowth of the isotopes
down the chain, including Po-210.  The next issue is that if you have a
refined radium source, presumably all the lead and bismuth and polonium
isotopes would have been left behind with the slag.  This means the
Pb-210 won't come into equilibrium for some time (about 140 years, using
an old thumb rule).  On the bright side, there are radium sources that
are that old, but getting them would be a non-trivial challenge).  

If I were insistent on concentrating Po-210 from "natural" sources, as
opposed to going the activation route, I would look at ventilation
filters or liquid dust traps for mines.  Obviously some mines would be
better for this than others.  

After all that, you are left with the chemistry, which I've been told is
trick, especially as the fine powder that results is difficult to keep
contained (one person said that alpha recoil increases the spread of
contamination, but I wouldn't know).  I've been told that it will crap
up a glove box no matter how careful you are, and you will never get it
clean (until it decays away).  

All this is easy compared to building a nuclear reactor in order to do
activation.  On the other hand, if you already have a nuclear reactor,
and all that neutron flux is just going to waste...

-----Original Message-----
From: radsafe-bounces at health.phys.iit.edu
[mailto:radsafe-bounces at health.phys.iit.edu] On Behalf Of
franz.schoenhofer at chello.at
Sent: Sunday, September 11, 2011 1:21 PM
To: The International Radiation Protection (Health Physics) Mailing
List; The International Radiation Protection (Health Physics)
Cc: Busby, Chris
Subject: Re: [ RadSafe ] Polonium-210 poisoning

Absurd and lacking any insight in the topic and on reality. Po-210 is
produced commercially as far as I know (almost) exclusively in Russian
reactors (consult Google). They have enough to spend some to the KGB.
What are "old radium tubes"? Since you have neither knowledge about
radiation protection or chemistry I wonder where you got the recipe for
separating Po-210 from radium. Radiumsources usually are not to be found
on the streets, so where do you get them from? Being a radiochemist I
would not work with the necessary quantities of radium to extract the
polonium obviously used in the murder of Litvinenko.


---- "Busby schrieb:
> Yes. Interesting. Everyone blamed the Russians because it was said
that only someone with access to a reactor could have put the poison
together i.e. it was not a amateur job. But it is easy to separate Po210
from old radium tubes with nitric acid and baking soda; a kitchen job,
though you'd have to be jolly careful. I think KGB would have far more
sophisticated ways of killing someone.
> Chris 
> -----Original Message-----
> From: radsafe-bounces at agni.phys.iit.edu on behalf of Otto G. Raabe
> Sent: Sat 9/10/2011 7:38 PM
> To: The International Radiation Protection (Health Physics) Mailing
> Subject: [ RadSafe ] Polonium-210 poisoning
> September 10, 2011
> At London's Millenium Hotel on November 1, 2006, Alexander 
> Litvinenko, a Russian defector, was poisoned  with tea containing a 
> large amount of polonium-210. He fell ill that very day and died 
> after a long hospitalization on November 23. He told investigators 
> that he had met with two former KGB agents early on the day he fell
Franz Schoenhofer, PhD, MinRat
Habicherg. 31/7
A-1160 Vienna
mobile: ++43 699 1706 1227

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