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Most Polonium Made Near the Volga River

Published: January 23, 2007 (Issue # 1239)


Ninety-seven percent of the legal production of one of the worlds rarest industrial products the intensely radioactive isotope polonium-210 takes place at a closely guarded nuclear reactor near the Volga River, 700 kilometers southeast of Moscow.

In an average year, about 85 grams of the substance is made at the Avangard facility, a former nuclear weapons plant, and then sold under strict controls to Russian and foreign companies that prize it for its abilities to reduce static electricity.

Last fall, a microscopic quantity of polonium-210, from somewhere, found its way into the body of Alexander Litvinenko. He died an agonizing death in a hospital 22 days later.

Now an international investigation is trying to track that dose back to its source. Detectives from Scotland Yard have said little about where the trail of evidence may be leading; Russian officials have been more willing to talk, saying Avangard is tightly audited and that illicit production of polonium-210 is technically possible at many of the worlds reactors.

Still, Russias near total domination of the worlds legal trade in the substance has focused new international attention on the countrys production system and controls. Russia is the main source of polonium in part because it offers high quality and the best price for commercial users, said Nick Priest, professor of radiation toxicology at Middlesex University and a former head of biomedical research at the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority. No polonium is produced in Britain, and officials in Russia said none had been exported commercially to Britain for at least five years.

Polonium-210 is produced in reactors by irradiating bismuth-209. Specialists say that around the world, reactors capable of this operation belong either to state agencies or universities and so are highly regulated. Everything connected with polonium production and application is controlled by governments, said Boris Zhuikov, head of the radioisotope laboratory in the Nuclear Studies Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences. You cannot just put any target inside a reactor. It is regulated and checked by many, many people. It would be discovered.

The Avangard plant operates under close government scrutiny. Officials said four organizations were licensed to handle the material made there: the chemistry faculty of Moscow State University; the Federal Nuclear Center in Samara, also on the Volga; Tenex, the state-controlled uranium supplier; and one private company, Nuclon, which uses it for medical devices and transports isotopes to customers.

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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Thursday, July 24


Liliana Modiliani, a well-known Russian stylist, will talk about choosing clothes that fit during her lecture at 7 p.m. at the Pryamoy Efir art club, 13 Viborgskoe Shosse.



Friday, July 25


Discuss Russias economic and political prospects for 2014 during a Business Breakfast organized by SPIBA at 9.30 a.m. in the Bank Saint-Petersburg office at 64


Malookhtinsky Prospekt.


Start your weekend with adorable miniature pigs at the Squealing Pig festival at 7 p.m. this evening in the Karl & Friedrich restaurant, 15 Iozhnaya doroga, on Krestovsky Island.



Saturday, July 26


Hundreds of brand-new and retro cars, drag and drift shows, test drives and karting are planned for the Avtobum-2014 festival, which will take place in front of the RIO shopping center at 2 Fuchika Ulitsa.


Participants in todays SaniDay Summer competition will impress visitors with their hand-made, unusual and hilarious boats, which will race at the Igora Resort near the 54th kilometer on Priozerskoe Shosse.


Metro Family Day will include both serious lectures for adults and master-classes for children, making the event interesting for the whole family. To participate, come to Kirov Park on Yelagin Island.


Photography will be the focus of todays Photosubbota, which features lectures by famous photographers, meetings with photo schools and studio representatives, and participation in a photography competition. The event starts at noon at Petrokongress, 5 Lodeynopolskaya Ulitsa.


If you like cycling, make sure to visit the Za Velogorod Festival with its retro bike exhibition, market and live music. The second round of the Leningrad Criterium race will also take place during the event at Petrovsky Arsenal in Sestroretsk.



Sunday, July 27


Navy Day will be celebrated with a weapon and military transportation exhibition, self-defense master classes and concerts. The event starts at 1 p.m. in the 300th Anniversary Park of St. Petersburg.



Monday, July 28


Dont miss a chance to see the latest achievements in robotics during the RoboDom interactive show, exhibiting more than 150 robots. The show will be at BUM center, 22/2 Gzhatskaya Ulitsa, until Aug. 3. The entrance ticket costs 350 rubles ($10).



Tuesday, July 29


A video of a Queen concert from 1986 will be shown today at 8 p.m. in Yaschik, 50/13 Ligovsky Prospekt.



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