Polonium-210 makes a great stocking stuffer

With news that traces of the radioactive isotope that killed former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko, polonium-210, are being found all over London, there’s a lot of curiousity about just how hard it is to get your hands on the stuff. The Times of London recently reported that polonium is so difficult to come by that ...

605876_iso1-15.jpg
605876_iso1-15.jpg

With news that traces of the radioactive isotope that killed former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko, polonium-210, are being found all over London, there's a lot of curiousity about just how hard it is to get your hands on the stuff. The Times of London recently reported that polonium is so difficult to come by that the killer must have been "well resourced and possibly state-sponsored." 

Or the killer could have had an Internet connection. It turns out polonium-210 is available online for just $69 plus shipping and handling. United Nuclear Scientific Equipment & Supplies out of New Mexico, which describes itself as putting "the fun back into science" and "not like shopping at K-Mart," sells the stuff. Still, they don't do international orders and stress that the samples they sell are so small that they are completely harmless and, indeed, invisible to the naked eye. Because of all the adverse media attention on polonium-210 in recent days, United Nuclear has posted the following on their isotopes page:

You would need about 15,000 of our Polonium-210 needle sources at a total cost of about $1 million - to have a toxic amount…

With news that traces of the radioactive isotope that killed former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko, polonium-210, are being found all over London, there’s a lot of curiousity about just how hard it is to get your hands on the stuff. The Times of London recently reported that polonium is so difficult to come by that the killer must have been “well resourced and possibly state-sponsored.” 

Or the killer could have had an Internet connection. It turns out polonium-210 is available online for just $69 plus shipping and handling. United Nuclear Scientific Equipment & Supplies out of New Mexico, which describes itself as putting “the fun back into science” and “not like shopping at K-Mart,” sells the stuff. Still, they don’t do international orders and stress that the samples they sell are so small that they are completely harmless and, indeed, invisible to the naked eye. Because of all the adverse media attention on polonium-210 in recent days, United Nuclear has posted the following on their isotopes page:

You would need about 15,000 of our Polonium-210 needle sources at a total cost of about $1 million – to have a toxic amount…

If that is a tad out of your range for your enemies list, United Nuclear wants to make sure you have options:

[T]here are dozens of other far more toxic materials, such as Ricin and Abrin, both of which can easily be made, and are also undetectable as a poison and untraceable. Although it obviously works, Polonium-210 is a poor choice for a poison. Another point to keep in mind is that an order for 15,000 sources would look a tad suspicious, considering we sell about 1 or 2 sources every 3 months.

Still, keep them in mind for holiday gifts. You could just tell everyone on your list that you got them polonium-210 samples. After all, they won’t be able to see them. It’s kind of a George Constanza thing to do. Skip the donation to the Human Fund this year and just get everyone “invisible” isotopes.

Hat tip: Slashdot and The Register

Carolyn O'Hara is a senior editor at Foreign Policy.

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