Monday, January 08, 2007

A Dead Man in London

First, a brief step back in time. September 2004 finds the United States asking the International Atomic Energy Agency the following question about the Director General’s report.

Q: Are Iran's explanations for its efforts to produce Polonium-210 credible? Did Iran perform nuclear-related work with Beryllium (which when combined with Po-210 forms a neutron initiator that could be used in nuclear weapons)?

Because of a very short half life, Polonium is extremely rare in nature, so any substantial quantities are made in sophisticated reactors and at a cost of millions of dollars. There are a few industrial uses but its primary historical role has been as a crucial ingredient in triggering devises of Russian designed nuclear weapons.

Nuclear Trigger: Po-210’s main military application is a neutron source, a polonium-beryllium “nuclear trigger.” This type of nuclear trigger was used in all early nuclear weapons, and is probably used in the missing Soviet suitcase nukes. If the Po-210 has turned into lead, the suitcase nukes will not work. It has been reported al-Qaeda is offering $3 million dollars for a gram of Po210.

In early November, 2006, a former Russian KGB agent having converted to Islam in support of the Chechen rebels, dies in London from massive levels of polonium poisoning. The media runs with a story line that millions of dollars worth of this exotic element are used to silence a critic of Vladimir Putin, to 'send a message'. The targeted assassination theory is hard to swallow when a bullet would have achieved the same exact result.

A.J. Strata has been following all the public information as it has been forthcoming these last nine weeks, and is firmly convinced that Alexandre Litvinenko died as part of an elaborate and well financed polonium smuggling operation. It seems much more likely that rather than an insanely expensive assassination, one of the transport personnel simply falls victim to some combination of complacency, curiosity and clumsiness on the third delivery.

There really are only two likely reasons to smuggle in quantities of a volatile and deadly rare synthetic molecule. The first is to restore the decayed trigger on an older nuclear weapon and the second (and perhaps a fallback option) is to use the material as a dirty bomb in the heart of a western city. As A. J. Strata points out, the authorities have some idea of how much was leaked in the accidental contamination, but there really is no good understanding of how much is safely in the wrong hands.