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British Investigate Traces of Radiation on Passenger Planes

British authorities are investigating possible traces of radiation on at least four passenger planes, as the investigation into the death of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko widens. For VOA News, Tom Rivers in London reports, three of the planes belong to British Airways and the fourth is operated by Transaero.

Three British Airways planes are being examined. The aircraft in question have been making short-haul flights in Europe - mostly, but not exclusively between London and Moscow.

It is believed that at least one of the Russian contacts Alexander Litvinenko met on the day he became ill had flown on one of the aircraft.

British Airways chief executive Willie Walsh says the three Boeing 767 airplanes have been taken out of service, and the two at Heathrow have been inspected.

"We were advised that low-level traces of radioactive material were discovered on the two aircraft here at Heathrow," he said.

Another British Airways plane remains on the ground in Moscow. In all, some 33,000 passengers were on the planes in question over the past month. Walsh says anyone with concerns should contact the airline.

"The aircraft will remain out of service until they have been cleared by the relevant authorities," he said. "Our concern here is now about giving the information that we have to our customers and to our staff. So, as much information as we have available will be made on"

Meanwhile, the chief of Britain's Health Protection Agency, Pat Troop says the risk to the public remains very low.

"This kind of radiation does not travel very far. It does not go through a piece of paper," said Troop. "It cannot come out through the skin. It can only come out through bodily fluids. So, that is, if someone was sweating profusely, that could be one of the causes, if it was coming from a human being. But, otherwise, it, as I say, only comes out through bodily fluids. So, it is not easy to contaminate areas, then it is even less easy for someone else to pick up that radiation and take it into themselves."

In London, a coroner's inquest has now formally been opened. A post-mortem on Mr. Litvinenko will be conducted on Friday.