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Traces of Radioactive Polonium-210 Found in Three Buildings in London.


Three people have been sent for radiological testing to see if they, too, have been contaminated with the rare, radioactive substance that killed former Russian spy and Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko.

Virtually everywhere Alexander Litvinenko went in his final days, he left traces of the polonium-210 that killed him. London police have sealed off the restaurant where he ate the day he become ill; a hotel he visited and his home. Traces of radioactive polonium have been found in all three locations.

Anyone he came into close contact with is being tested. There is a lot of speculation on who murdered Litvinenko. One thing is clear; whoever did it needed expertise and high level contacts. Polonium is not ordinarily found in research laboratories.

Gaia Vince is with New Scientist Magazine. "It has to be manufactured, it has to be made in a nuclear facility where you can bombard material with neutrons. It's actually quite tricky to make."

Polonium-210 is radioactive and very rare. If consumed, it causes a slow, painful death.

Dr. Roger Cox is an expert on radioactive materials with the British Center for Health Protection Agency. "If that Polonium-210 is ingested in the body, by viral ingestion, eating it, via inhalation or perhaps via a wound, then it will rapidly track through the body and goes to most organs within the body. And if the dose were to be sufficiently high, one would expect to see tissue damage characteristic of radiation."

Polonium was discovered by scientists Marie and Pierre Curie in 1897. Madame Curie named the element after her homeland, Poland. It is said she hoped it would bring attention to the plight of Poland, which at that time was under Russian, Prussian and Austrian control. Polonium may have been the first element named to highlight a political controversy. And now, its use is involved in yet another political controversy.

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