Figured there was alot of speculation into exactly how deadly (or non-deadly) Polonium is. I sat down and did some research and pulled together alot
of facts for everyone to pour over. I tried to narrow my research of Polonium to strictly the uses, health effects, and production of Polonium-210.
If you follow the links at the bottom of this page you will find more indepth research of Polonium.
With the recent events of this material being used to murder a ex-spy, I figured this would be a useful and informative addition to ATS.
Polonium is a chemical element in the periodic table that has the symbol Po and atomic number 84. A rare radioactive metalloid, polonium is chemically
similar to tellurium and bismuth and occurs in uranium ores. Polonium has been studied for possible use in heating spacecraft. It exists as a number
This isotope of polonium is an alpha emitter that has a half-life of 138.376 days. A milligram of 210Po emits as many alpha particles as 5 grams of
radium. A great deal of energy is released by its decay with a half a gram quickly reaching a temperature above 750 K.
A few curies
(gigabecquerels) of 210Po emit a blue glow
which is caused by excitation of surrounding air. A single gram of 210Po generates 140 watts of
power. Since nearly all alpha radiation can be easily stopped by ordinary containers and upon hitting its surface releases its energy, 210Po has been
used as a lightweight heat source to power thermoelectric cells in artificial satellites. A 210Po heat source was also used in each of the Lunokhod
rovers deployed on the surface of the Moon, to keep their internal components warm during the lunar nights. As it decays, half a gram of 210Po
generates 140 watts of energy.
Polonium Uses: Precious Metal Encasing
Polonium, encased in precious metals such as gold, is most commonly used in Alpha Ionization, or otherwise known as "Static Control".
If Polonium-210 is incased in a material such as gold, there are virtually no risks of exposure to radiation emitted from the substance. Polunium has
penetrating ranges of roughly 40um and less, whereas the dead layer of cells that consist of the human skin has a protection of 250-300um.
So basically, Polonium is quite harmless when encased in precious metals. What about if it's not encased? Just how deadly is this stuff?
Polonium can be taken into the body by eating food, drinking water, or breathing air. Between 50% and 90% of the polonium taken in by ingestion will
promptly leave the body in feces.
The fraction remaining in the body enters the bloodstream. In general, the spleen and kidneys concentrate polonium more than other tissues except for
temporary deposition in the lung after inhalation of an insoluble form. It is estimated that approximately 45% of ingested polonium will be deposited
in the spleen, kidneys, and liver, with 10% deposited in bone marrow and the remainder distributed throughout the body. The amount of polonium in the
body will decrease with a half-time of 50 days.
"An alpha particle strikes a strand of DNA. It snips it in two, which is bad news, or glues two strands together. Either way normal cell repair
mechanisms may be unable to sort that out," said Sella.
"The result is that essentially the cellular command and control network (in the body) falls apart. That is what radiation sickness is all about,"
Time to Kill: As a poison
At a committed effective dose equivalent (CEDE) of 5.14×10−7 sieverts per becquerel (1.9×103 mrem/microcurie) for ingested 210Po and a specific
activity of 1.66×1014 Bq/gram (4.49×103 curies/gram) the amount of material required to produce a lethal dose of 10 sieverts would be only 0.12
micrograms (1.17×10−7g) or about 525 microcuries.
The biological halflife is 50 to 30 days in humans.
Lethal Dose: 0.12 Microgram
gram (g), kilogram (Kg), milligram (mg), microgram (ug) - let's not belabor this. These are units of mass in the metric system. The basic unit is the
gram (0.002205 lb.). 1000 grams equals a kilogram. A milligram is 1/1000th of a gram (i.e. 1000 mg equal 1 g). A microgram is 1/1000th of a
milligram and 1/1,000,000th of a gram
(i.e.1000 ug equals 1 mg and 1,000,000 ug equals 1g).
How it's made:
Initially, the recovery of polonium was attempted from naturally occurring sources such as lead-containing wastes from uranium, vanadium, and radium
refining operations. Upon investigation, it became apparent that sufficient quantities of polonium could not be recovered from these sources without
processing prohibitively large amounts of material. To obtain polonium in the quantities needed, other approaches to its production were investigated,
and the transmutation of bismuth metal to polonium-210 by neutron irradiation was selected for production scale operations.
Due to its scarcity, polonium-210 is usually produced artificially in a nuclear reactor by bombarding bismuth-209 (a stable isotope) with neutrons.
This forms radioactive bismuth-210, which has a half-life of 5 days. Bismuth-210 decays to polonium-210 through beta decay. Milligram amounts of
polonium-210 will have been produced by this method. The longer-lived isotopes polonium-209 (half-life 103 years) and polonium-208 (half-life 2.9
years) are also produced in reactors or particle accelerators.
"It is not as simple as the idea that somebody might have broken into a radioactivity cabinet at some local hospital and walked off with some
polonium," Dr Andrea Sella, a lecturer in chemistry at University College London, told Reuters.
"You can't make this at home. This is in a different league,"
[edit on 11/26/2006 by QuietSoul]