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Health Protection Agency gives a few figures on Polonium-210 radiation doses in urine samples

The Health Protection Agency has, belatedly, started to give some quantitative estimates of the radiation doses detected in the urine samples of the people who are feared to have been slightly contaminated with Polonium-210, following the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko.

Why could these figures not have been released in November, when they could have reduced the amount of "radioactive dirty bomb" hype and media spin ?

There is a bit more background explanation in their Dose Assessment (.pdf) document, but the Health Protection Agency still gives no indication of the amount of Polonium-210 that Alexander Litvinenko was was killed with, or how much may have been smuggled into the United Kingdom.

There is no indication as to how Alexander Litvinenko was poisoned i.e. by drink, by food, by inhalation or injection etc.

There are still no estimates of how much Polonium-210 may still be in the hotels, bars, restaurants, aeroplanes and other vehicles etc, where traces have been detected.

The Analytical Procedure for testing the urine samples for 210Po (.pdf) seems to require at least a litre of urine per sample !

Category 1

* 480 people had results ‘below reporting level' - below 30 millibecquerels (mBq) per day (natural levels of Po-210 in urine are typically in the range 5-15 mBq per day). It is therefore unlikely that any of these people had been exposed to Po-210

Category 2

* 73 people had results above 30 mBq per day in their urine, but with a dose less than 1mSv indicating no public health risk, and no health concern to the individual, but probable contact with Po-210

Category 3a

* 30 people had results above 1 millisievert (mSv), but below 6mSv indicating no public health risk, and no health concern to the individual, but probable contact with Po-210

There are 583 results in categories 1, 2 and 3a and these are NOT of health concern.

Category 3b

* 13 people had results above 6mSv which are not significant enough to result in any illness in the short term and any increased risk in the long term is likely to be very small


It may be that information about the lethal dose is being withheld for fear of copycat assassination attempts. From one report which I heard on the BBC this kind of radioactive material is not very hard to acquire, and can be easily ordered over the internet.

@ Bob - the theoretical lethal dose depends on whether you die quickly like Alexander Litvinenko from a "large" dose, or several years later from cancer from a smaller one.

The amount of 210Po you can buy over the internet, is really tiny. Cornering half the world's supply for legitimate uses is bound to be noticed.

One of the online suppliers of laboratory equipment calibration samples claimed that at $50 dollars for a sample of 210Po, it would cost $10 million dollars for a lethal dose.

Since the half life of 210Po is only 138 days, then presumably the UK Government is simply hoping that the problem of residual contamination simply goes away naturally, if they bury the facts for long enough, provided, that no more 210Po is being used to attack British citizens.

BBC TV's Panorama programme "How to poison a spy", investigation into this Polonium-210 poisoning and contamination, broadcast on Monday 22nd January 2007, estimated the dose in the cup of tea which Alexander Litvinenko drank in the Millennium Hotel, to be "4 billion Bequerels" - about 15 minutes into the half hour programme:


The programme also says that there seem to have been at least two attempts to poison Litvinenko, so the amount of Polonium-210 still contaminating London, bearing in mind the half life of 138 days, is still unclear.

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