Deadly polonium and plutonium
October 4, 2007
Shellie Roy continues to talk nonsense about things of which she clearly knows nothing (letters, Oct. 2). I remind her, and you, that the Russian Alexander Litvinenko was killed by what is estimated to have been the ingestion of 10 millionths ” millionths! ” of a gram of polonium-210.
Polonium-210 is also an alpha particle emitter. Plutonium is less radioactive than polonium, so it would take some tens of milligrams ingested to kill you. Alpha particles do not readily penetrate the skin. That is why I am still here to answer Shellie Roy’s silly letter after having held a plutonium pit in the summer of 1957 at the test site in Mercury, Nev.
However, of the three forms of radioactivity (alpha, which are helium nuclei; beta, which are electrons; and gamma, which is electromagnetic radiation), alpha particle radiation is the most dangerous when ingested. It raises havoc with soft tissues such as bone marrow. The effect of this on a person is seen in the last photographs of Litvinenko.
Jeremy Bernstein, Ph.D