Jan 26 2007

A Plant In A Teapot?

The Blotter news blog is claiming that UK Police discovered a critical clue in the Polonium 210 trail that criss-crossed London last fall. But it took over a month after the fateful poisoning for that supposed clue to the death of Alexander Litvinenkp to show up:

British officials say police have cracked the murder-by-poison case of former spy Alexander Litvinenko, including the discovery of a “hot” teapot at London’s Millennium Hotel with an off-the-charts reading for Polonium-210, the radioactive material used in the killing.

A senior official tells ABC News the “hot” teapot remained in use at the hotel for several weeks after Litvinenko’s death before being tested in the second week of December. The official said investigators were embarrassed at the oversight.

Emphasis mine. First off, it is clear this tea pot WAS NOT under police evidence control since it was in use until mid December sometime. But like the tea cup, it is supposedly very ‘hot’ – showing a significant amount of Po-210. But this is just the same problem, physics-wise, as with the tea cup reporting – it is too hot to have been the likely source of the poisoning of Litvinenko. It is hard to tell, because we do not know Litvinenko’s dosage, but it seems to me the pot and the cup are still many times more contaminated than possible to be the vessel to deliver the miniscule amounts of Po-210 to Litvinenko.

The problem is the fact that mircroscopic amounts of Po-210 can kill, but these same amounts could never scar or permanently impact porcelain containers like the way the tea cup and tea pot apparently are. Let me use another form of radiation as an example to show the different responses different materails can have to the radiation. Microwaves are another form of radiation which can harm biological tissues. In small, low density amounts they will not harm the body, but at high densities they sure as well can cook up a slab of meat quickly – as can be seen in a microwave oven. That is because the rays excite water molecules and transfer heat energy to them, causing the water to heat up and cook the cells of the meat. Notice that your coffee cup is impervious to the microwaves, allowing your coffee to warm but the cup to show no damage.

Litvinenko was killed by something in the range of 0.5-10 millionths of a gram. That range is 10 – 200 times the lethal limit. While this amount of Po-210 ingested in the body will cook your cells and kill them, this same amount sitting on your skin will not and can be washed off with water, even in solid form. So the small amounts needed to kill are insignificant towards impacting a material like porcelain.

But we can look at pure power levels as well. A gram of Po-210 can generate around 140 watts of energy, which is quite a lot for an amount of material the size of a packet of sweetener. That means that packet of sweetener could light two 60 watt bulbs with some energy to spare. That amount of Po-210 might, and I repeat ‘might’, be enough to actually effect porcelain – but I have my doubts. Porcelain is a very tough material. Ceramics are used to protect the Space Shuttle from the super furnace hear of re-entry. While those are special ceramics, the point is still the same – the material is tough. But I do know one thing for sure. Porcelin is tougher than skin. So how is it an amount that would not kill you if it was on your hand can also ‘mark’ porcelain? It cannot.

Litvinenko’s dosage was, at worse, 10 millionths of a gram. Assuming that dose came from a half a cup of tea and the tea pot held 6 cups, that means the total amount of Po-210 in the tea cup would be 120 x 10e-6 = 1200 x 10e-6 or 1.2 thousands of a gram of Po-210 in the entire pot. This is a reasonable assumption because you can multiply the assumptions by ten in either direction to bound ‘reality’. No tea pot holds 60 cups of tea, so that is out. And one twentieth of a cup of tea is probably the minimum ‘taste’ someone would take (as opposed to the assumed 1/2 a cup we used). These orders of magnitude bound the realistic amounts of Po-210 disolved in the cup of tea.

At 1.2 thousandths of a gram, our nominal estimate, the Po-210 only generates 0.14 watts (round off the 1.2 to 1.0) of energy – total. Multiply this by ten to get the worst case boundary we are still talking about only 1.4 watts in the total tea pot. And in a liquid the energy is still being emitted over all the atoms in the liquid, which are quite spread out when dissolved. The point is Po-210 is like microwave energies. Amounts that would boil human cells wouldn’t do anything to porcelain.

So, stepping back from the physics again, what does this all mean? To me it means a tea pot the registers “off the charts” (as the Blotter reports) for Po-210 could not be the vessel for the amounts seen in Litvinenko. I also wonder how this tea pot showed up at the Hotel over a month after the actual poisoning and did not contaminate a lot more guests with serious levels. We believe the dishwasher was the prime source for most of the people who had slightly elevated Po-210 levels since simply flushing with water can remove the substance many surfaces. But this tea pot looks suspicious to me.

Did someone tip police off so that is why they came back in mid December to ‘discover’ this magic tea pot? Is this where some of the Po-210 I believe was still passing through London on one of possibly three consignments during October? Did the smugglers have a fourth, later shipment come in during November, just in time to be used in a tea pot? If someone could drop Po-210 into Litvinenko’s drink to kill him, what makes police think someone couldn’t do the same thing to a tea pot to frame Lugovoi?

There is no link between this pot and Lugovoi if it has been out in the public being used for a over a month since the poisoning, and at least two weeks since the death of Litvinenko. They have no way of knowing if this pot was contaminated after the poisoning to deflect the investigation. The tea pot is too hot to be the source of Litvinenko’s poisoning, and too convenient to be believable. If the tea pot had shows signs it contained a solution of relative equal dose as that find in Litvinenko, I could buy it. But ‘off the charts’ doesn’t sound like 10 millionths of a gram to me.

Addendum: Let me just get to the bottom line. Since the tea pot was not found for over a month after Litvinenko was supposedly poisoned on Nov 1, then the authorities have no idea when the tea pot was contaminated during that time period. Not a single clue when.

66 responses so far

66 Responses to “A Plant In A Teapot?”

  1. Carol_Herman says:

    Both the teaPOT and the teaCUP could have been used in a way that GOT RID OF THE SMUGGLER’S RADIOACTIVE MATERIALS!

    How convenient. Using the hotel where this is “found.” MacGuffins? Well, why not?

    But taking this radioactive matieral into the hotel, and then PLANTING this stuff is MACABRE. It kills innocent people. Staff. Maids. And, the boy who doesn’t “wash the dishes.” But stuffs the dirty dishes into the dish washer.

    And, then everything FLUSHES OUT. And, ends up in the Thames.

    Loss to Berezovsky? Into the tens of millions. NOT GETTING CAUGHT? PRICELESS.

    And, for Berezovsky to call in Goldfarb, shows ya a little detail. The coppers weren’t looking at the evidence they had, properly. While the russian mafia was “thinking ahead.”

    Getting rid of evidence. PLUS, blaming putin. Again, PRICELESS.

    And, when Glenn Reynolds ran a link to this story, yesterday? (Saturday, January 27th. I bet Goldfarb picked up a big bonus.)

    Well, “throwing guns and knives out” at murder scenes is nothing new!

    But that’s why you’d expect a crime scene to have police tape all over the doorways. Didn’t happen here at all.

    Plenty of time for Goldfarb to work mischief.

    Yet, that imam? He wanted nothing to do with the casket! Now, I don’t think the mortician put radioactive materials IN, along with the corpse. Still? You saw it. The russian pallbearers, AND the “box” were outside. The russians didn’t sit down and strike, either. Nobody made a commotion. As if it’s normal for an imam to deny a man’s “dying wish.”

    Keep spreading fairytales. Doesn’t stop anyone from noticing the criminals ALL got caught, “hung up on their own petards.” It’s practically Shakespearean. While the muzzies will pay hollywood to cast the Mossad as the “killas.” Sure.

    You’re either looking at a COMEDY OF ERRORS. Or some very smart work by a magician, that got Litvinenko to lick his fingers. And, so far, he’s the only body that fell down, dead.

  2. Carol_Herman says:

    Oh, Koba. Your work is wonderful!

    And, if it had been a game of Cluedo, you’d have a burly russian guy tossing Litvinenko off the roof of the hotel. With his pants around his ankles.

    AJ does the physics great. But what stands out loud and clear is that this whole story’s set up, to get this beyond “accident” to boiler maker; is hilarious. And, yes. It’s a joy to see someone with a sense of humor, who can get the facts right.

    Yes, it’s hard to believe that there would be a spill. Litvinenko would “clean it up.” (Somehow knowing he didn’t want the lights on first? Or just being good aout snapping off the light switch as he exited the room?)

    And, then he doesn’t pick his nose. He doesn’t take a few of the alpha particles that he’s managed to inhale. And, then after picking his nose, he doesn’t put his finger in his mouth.

    Have you ever seen guys just sitting in traffic, waiting for the light to change? Pick a number from “very rare” to nearly universal, and see if you think picking your nose is so rare, it’s hardly ever done.

    Because Litvinenko’s nose hairs held enough poison, that if it got passed his mouth, could kill him. Odorless. Flavorless. Just a “little salt added” from the boogers. (Let alone if his nose began to really run!)

  3. AJStrata says:


    In the post 9-11 world any mysterious death that looked like radiation poisoning (and this clearly did) would be investigated until the source was absolutely known and whether there was a terrorist plot involved. Once Litvinenko showed signs of radiation poisoning there was not avoiding detecting the Po-210.

    Now, the question was whether the Brits would find it or someone else would. But it would be determined.

  4. per says:

    “any mysterious death that looked like radiation poisoning (and this clearly did)…”
    I don’t think you are medically qualified, and I don’t think you are capable of suggesting alternative plausible diagnoses for these symptoms. You look back with 20/20 vision and announce it is obvious, when the attending clinicians took 20 days to diagnose.

  5. MerlinOS2 says:

    To all, I stepped over the line and I apologize especially to Soothsayer, I did a wrong thing in useful debate and have no excuses. My bad.

  6. Ermit says:

    If it is not BOILING water, you can’t make tea