When it came out the other day that you could buy a speck of the spy-killing poison polonium-210 online, lots of folks said: big whoop. After all, it could take thousands of such samples to build up the amount of radioactivity that offed Alexander Litvinenko, the former Russian spook.But it might just be time to start worrying again. As Bill Broad reports in today's New York Times:
An antistatic fan made by NRD, of Grand Island, N.Y., contains 31,500 microcuries of polonium 210 or, in theory, more than 10 lethal doses. The unit often sells commercially for $225.00. Repeated calls to NRD were not returned, but the company in sales literature describes its products as unusually safe.The companys antistatic brushes contain less polonium, typically 500 microcuries of radiation. The three-inch brush often sells on the Web for $33.99. In theory, by spending $203.94, before tax and any handling charges, and then disassembling six brushes, someone with lab experience could accumulate a lethal dose.In Tennessee, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory sells dozens of types of rare nuclear materials to American manufacturers. But Bill Cabage, a lab spokesman, said it sold no polonium 210 because Russia was able to do so much more inexpensively.Thats typical of exotic radioisotopes, he said. We cant compete with their prices.Last week, Russias top nuclear official said it exports 8 grams of polonium 210 a month, or 96 grams a year, to the United States. That is 3.4 ounces, which seems like a trifle but in theory is enough for thousands of lethal doses.