Polonium-210, which experts say is many times more deadly than cyanide, can be bought legally through United Nuclear Scientific Supplies, a mail-order company that sells through the Web, based in Sandia Park, N.M. Chemcial companies sell the Polonium-210 legally for industrial use, such as removing static electricity from machinery. United Nuclear claims that it’s “currently the only legal Alpha source available without a license.”
The type of Polonium-210 sold emits alpha radiation, which can’t penetrate the skin, but is deadly if swallowed, depending on the amount ingested. The Polonium available on United Nuclear’s site can be purchased without a license because the level of radioactivity, 0.1 microcurie, does not pose a danger, a spokesman for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission said.
“At that level, it’s exempt from licenses,” NRC spokesman David McIntyre said. “At any exempt quantity, it’s not considered a health hazard.”
Such small amounts of Polonium could be used to calibrate devices used to detect radiation, McIntyre said. If used for that purpose, the material would remain in its sealed container, and never actually handled.
In April, United Nuclear was ordered by the Department of Justice to stop selling chemicals that it claimed could be used to make explosives, the Albuquerque Journal reported. At the time, Lazar said he was fighting the legal challenge.
On the site, United Nuclear says it will not sell anything illegal, including explosives or the materials to make explosives. “Because our products can be potentially hazardous in the wrong hands, we will occasionally terminate and refund orders, if we feel you are a juvenile posing as an adult, inexperienced with the materials ordered, or using our products to make any sort of explosive device,” the company says.
Wired ran a story about Lazar and other science salesmen a few months back. Somehow, the Area 51 stuff never made it into the piece.
UPDATE 11:50 AM: Be sure to check out Arms Control Wonk’s take on the polonium poison mystery.
UPDATE 1:55 PM: “Authorities grounded three British Airways jetliners in London and Moscow on Wednesday and drew up plans to contact thousands of airplane passengers as they broadened their investigation into the radiation poisoning death of a former Russian spy,” the AP says. “Two planes at London’s Heathrow Airport tested positive for traces of radiation, a third plane has been taken out of service in Moscow awaiting examination.”
“The radioactive material that killed a former Russian spy in Britain can be bought on the Internet for $69,” Information Week is reporting. – detch