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List of crimes involving radioactive substances
This is a list of criminal (or arguably, allegedly, or potentially criminal) acts involving radioactive substances. Inclusion in this list does not necessarily imply that anyone involved was guilty of a crime.
Additional recommended knowledge
Misuse of alpha emitters for murder/attempted murder
Two well known cases exist. In Germany, a man attempted to murder a woman with plutonium. In 2006, former KGB officer Alexander Litvinenko was killed in London by persons unknown (as of 2006) using the short-lived alpha emitter polonium-210.
In the German case, a man attempted to poison his ex-wife with plutonium stolen from WAK (Wiederaufbereitungsanlage Karlsruhe), a small scale reprocessing plant where he worked. He did not steal a large amount of plutonium, just some rags used for wiping surfaces and a small amount of liquid waste. The man was eventually sent to prison. At least two people (besides the criminal) were contaminated by the plutonium. Two flats in Landau in the Rhineland-Palatinate were contaminated, and had to be cleaned at a cost of two million euro. Photographs of the case and details of other nuclear crimes have been presented by a worker at the Institute for Transuranium Elements.
A review of the forensic matters associated with stolen plutonium has been published..
The Litvinenko murder
During Litvinenko's medical treatment more than one hypothesis existed as to the cause of Litvinenko's ill health. The first theory was that it was a normal case of thallium poisoning. Later, it was suggested that a radioactive isotope of thallium had been used. The third and final hypothesis (following Litvinenko's death) was that he had been poisoned with a radioactive isotope of polonium. All the evidence now indicates that polonium was used to kill Litvinenko.
It was unlikely that the medical doctor would recognize the correct cause of the illness as very few medical doctors have experience with radiological illness or injury. Instead, Litvinenko was most likely to die of unexplained cause such as idiopathic pancytopenia.
Thallium, in large amount, can be a poison in itself, whether radioactive or not. The 201 isotope of Thallium, in traces amount, is used routinely around the world for medical procedures such as myocardial scintigraphy.
Dr. Amit Nathwani, one of Litvinenko's physicians, reported: "His symptoms are slightly odd for thallium poisoning, and the chemical levels of thallium we were able to detect are not the kind of levels you'd see in toxicity." Hours before his death, three unidentified circular-shaped objects were found in his stomach via an X-ray scan. It is thought these objects were almost certainly shadows caused by the presence of Prussian blue, the treatment he had been given for thallium poisoning.
Following a deterioration of his condition on 20 November, Litvinenko was moved into intensive care. It was reported that his doctors had given him a 50/50 chance of survival over the three- to four-week period following the poisoning.
News reports at this stage kept an open mind on the cause of Litvinenko's condition, with Scotland Yard considering whether the poison could have been self-administered.
Wikinews has related news:
The UK's Health Protection Agency confirmed that they were investigating the risks to people who have been in contact with him.
Details of the radiological threat posed by polonium-210
At a committed effective dose equivalent (CEDE) of 5.14×10−7 sieverts per becquerel (1.9×103 mrem/µCi) for ingested 210Po and a specific activity of 1.66×1014 Bq/g (4.49×103 Ci/g) the amount of material required to produce a lethal dose of radiation poisoning would be only about 0.12 micrograms (1.17×10−7g). The CEDE is normally used for expressing how likely internal exposure is to cause cancer, as the effective half life in humans of polonium is 37 days and the time between the poisoning and the death was short then the dose suffered by Alexander Litvinenko per unit of activity would have been lower than the CEDE. The biological halflife is 30 to 50 days in humans.
Criminal use of X-ray equipment and other radiation technology by secret police
Similarly, some anti-Castro activists claim that the Cuban secret police sometimes used radioactive isotopes to induce cancer in "adversaries they wished to destroy with as little notice as possible". In 1997, the Cuban expatriate columnist Carlos Alberto Montaner called this method "the Bulgarian Treatment", after its alleged use by the Bulgarian secret police.
A number of people have been arrested and convicted of spying with regards to nuclear matters. For example see the cases of Klaus Fuchs, Theodore Hall, David Greenglass, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, Harry Gold, Mordechai Vanunu and Wen Ho Lee.
The transport of radioactive materials is controlled by a series of criminal laws and is also covered by civil law. In several cases radioactive materials have been transported incorrectly, leading to exposure (or potential exposure) of humans to radiation.
The bus and the radiography set
Transport accidents can cause a release of radioactivity resulting in contamination or shielding to be damaged resulting in direct irradiation. In Cochabamba a defective gamma radiography set containing a iridium-192 source was transported in a passenger bus as cargo. The gamma source was outside the shielding, and it irradiated some bus passengers. The dose suffered by the passengers was initially estimated as being between 20 mGy and 2.77 Gy (Gy = Gray (unit)), but when the accident was reconstructed by placing dosimeters on seats before placing a similar radiography source in the cargo hold of the bus, the dose estimated by this experiment was no more than 500 mGy for the most exposed passenger.
As an indication of what these doses mean, the LD50 (Lethal Dose for 50% of subjects) in men is 4.5 Gy in one shot. It can be as high as 80 Gy if administered over several days (as in radiotherapy treatments where doses are often delivered in fractions of 1 or 2 Gy/day).
AEA technology and the medical source
March 11, 2002 – A 2.5 tonne 60Co gamma source was transported from Cookridge Hospital, Leeds, England, to Sellafield with defective shielding. As the radiation escaped from the package downwards into the ground, it is not thought that this event caused any injury or disease in either a human or an animal. This event was treated in a serious manner because the defense in depth type of protection for the source had been eroded. If the container had been tipped over in a road crash then a strong beam of gamma rays would have been directed in a direction where it would be likely to irradiate humans. The company responsible for the transport of the source, AEA Technology plc, was fined £250,000 by a British court.
In 1989, a small capsule containing highly radioactive isotope Cesium-137 was found inside the concrete wall in an apartment building in Kramatorsk, Ukraine. It is believed that the capsule, originally a part of a measurement device, was lost sometime during late 1970's and ended up mixed with gravel used to construct that building in 1980. By the time the capsule was discovered, 6 residents of the building died from leukemia and 17 more received varying doses of radiation.  -->
Trafficking in radioactive and nuclear materials
Some cases of theft and/or smuggling of nuclear/radioactive materials have been reported. These cases differ from the scrap metal theft which results in the lost source events because it is the intention of the criminal to obtain radioactive/nuclear materials. Many of these events involve unenriched uranium or thorium, but a few of them involve either enriched uranium or plutonium.
In the case of Polonium 210, its almost exclusive alpha emission makes it very hard to detect. As damaging as its emission can be when inside a living organism, it is stopped by a simple paper sheet or the very first layer of skin. Therefore, it can only be scanned by direct contact and could be smuggled fairly easily inside a passenger bag, with no risk to its bearer.
For an overview please see .
Nature of the radioactive source
By means of radiometric methods such as Gamma spectroscopy (or a method using a chemical separation followed by an activity measurement with a non-energy-dispersive counter), it is possible to measure the concentrations of radioisotopes and to distinguish one from another. Below is a graph drawn from databooks of how the gamma spectra of three different isotopes which relate to this case using an energy-dispersive counter such as a germanium semiconductor detector or a sodium iodide crystal (doped with thallium) scintillation counter. In this chart the line width of the spectral lines is about 1 keV and no noise is present, in real life background noise would be present and depending on the detector the line width would be larger so making it harder to make an identification and measurement of the isotope. In biological/medical work it is common to use the natural 40K present in all tissues/body fluids as a check of the equipment and as an internal standard.
|This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "List_of_crimes_involving_radioactive_substances". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.|