Saturday, November 25, 2006

The Rasputin Gambit

It is becoming apparent that the defected Russian spy in Great Britian was poisoned with polonium.

Polonium, element 84, atomic weight 210, (with 25 isotopes), is a member of the uranium family. It decays by alpha particle emission. (Alpha particles are helium nuclei, and are generally not very dangerous, since they are low energy and can be stopped by a piece of paper.) However, it is extremely toxic when either inhaled or injested.

A few millionths of a gram is enough to kill you. Read the technical details HERE ....

But it is rare, very rare, and only produced in millionths/thousandths of a gram quantities in certain types of reactors.

At this time the pathologists are figuring out a safe way to autopsy the body to collect organ samples. They have found traces in his residence, places where he visited and the sushi bar where he is thought to have been poisoned.

Polonium is inefficiently used in certain nuclear heat/electricity generators for spacecraft, although seldom (there are better ways -plutonium, for instance). It's only real use I can think of is to be the "pit" of a fission weapon. Where thin foils of polonium and beryllium are formed into a small ball at the very center of the weapon. In the first few microseconds of the implosion the two are melted and mixed and release a few neutrons which start the chain reaction. (Much more dependable that relying on the stray cosmic ray to come along at just the right time)

They should not only be able to determine the country of origin of the polonium, but even identify the reactor that it came from.

This is a no-no. And Russia, and Putin, is in deep shit. You simply cannot kill someone and leave no evidence. They have tried before and gotten caught, although that time they had a client state, Bulgaria, do the dirty deed, with materials suppied by the KGB.

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