Intrigued and disturbed by reports that the former KGB officer Alexander Litvinenko may have been killed by radiation poisoning, I couldn’t help wondering how something like that was done? How easy would it be to get your hands on Polonium-210, the chemical element? Quite easy, it turns out.
If you’re in the U.S., or have someone with a U.S. PayPal account you could shell out $70 and buy it online at United Nuclear (“Supplying the science hobbyist, industry, government, schools & universities since 1998”), a New Mexico company with a fun attitude (“If you’re looking for a clean, accurate, certified radiation sources, here they are…”).
If you don’t want to wait that long, head down to your local photography store and buy a StaticMaster Anti-Static Brush – 3″, whose ionizer is powered by alpha-energy from Polonium-210 ion sources. Cost: about $40. In fact you don’t need to buy the whole brush; you could just buy a replacement Polonium cartridge. According to this article, hold a StaticMaster against any glow-in-the-dark toy and you can see the polonium inside the cartridge glow.
I don’t know enough about this kind of thing to say how you would then use this stuff to poison people, and perhaps the quantities aren’t enough. But while the StaticMaster is supposedly safe and that Polonium 210 has been used safely for decades, this may be because it’s sealed: The later website, AngelFire warns: Whatever you do, DO NOT abuse the physical integrity of the sealed sources. Po-210 is a dangerous inhalation and ingestion hazard!
It sounds as if getting your hands on Po-210 isn’t quite as tricky as it sounds. How you would then administer it, I don’t know.