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Published in Stream:
Russia Update: March 11, 2015
Press by
The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Inquiry Says Polonium Which Killed Litvinenko Could Only Come From Russia's Avangard Nuclear Plant
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Norman Dombey, emeritus professor of nuclear physics at the University of Sussex, has testified at an inquiry into the death of Alexander Litvinenko. Dombey says that the nuclear material which killed Livinenko, polonium, has a half-life of only 138 days, and only one facility in the world was making it at the time of Litvinenko's death -- the Avangard nuclear plant in Sarov, Russia.

The Guardian reports:

Dombey said the quantity used to kill Litvinenko – he swallowed an astonishing 26.5 microgrammes – was exceptionally large. All other countries including the US and UK stopped making polonium in the 1970s. Avangard was the last remaining source of commercial polonium, with no other nuclear facility capable of making sufficient quantities...

Doctors only identified polonium as the poison hours before Litvinenko died. Unlike other radioactive substances, it emits alpha rather than gamma particles. “This poisoning was not meant to be discovered,” Dombey concluded. “It was meant to be a mysterious poisoning because polonium is an alpha-emitter which a Geiger counter doesn’t pick up.”

He also said that the Russians involved in the murder plot would have tested the poison in advance. Too small a dose would have been ineffective; too big would have been a massive risk to public health. Citing sources in Russia, Dombey said Russian agents had previously tested polonium on a Chechen, Lecha Islamov, who was serving a nine-year sentence in jail.

Litvinenko was a former FSB agent who fled to the UK, where he became an outspoken critic of Vladimir Putin, after accusing the Russian government of assassinating Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky.

-- James Miller