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. Ermit says:

    Komsomolets is a Young Communist League Member. They serve tea in England in teapots in restaurants and in the hotel service. Gordievsky knows that. Then you pour tea into your cup yourself. Brits make tea the same way as Russians but they don’t pour boiling water into the cup afterwards.

  2. Soothsayer says:

    I am a nuclear engineer who can do physics equations in my head.

    And an arrogant and uncivil one, I see, and with an agenda to boot. You actually think all this masturbatory activity obsessing on two-bit theories accomplishes anything? You think the Brits don’t have “nuclear engineers” calculating this crap? Find somebody who gives a sh** about your bogus credentials.

  3. Gotta Know says:

    On Russian tea:

    1) Litvinenko lived in London for about 6 years, he could easily have adapted to the Brit way of teamaking.

    2) The Russian way seems far too elaborate for completion in a hotel room. They may not even have access to boiling water. So Litvinenko may have had to settle for Brit tea even though he normally went through the trouble of making it Russian style. And given the timeline, there may not have been time.

    3) The teapot shown in the press photo has a cover. It is harder to put polonium into the pot than it does into an individual cup. Why bother? And the cup is more direct, more certain.

    4) Would one big burly Russian make tea for another big burly Russian? That’s the only way I can see spiking the tea in the pot.

    It still seems like a plant. It could even be disinformation. And why have we not seen reports of panicked visiting teadrinkers lining up for polonium testing? If they didn’t know the pot had polonium, as they claim, then they probably didn’t know where it was within the hotel. It seems like a major health concern, and yet we have only a basic apology.

  4. AJStrata says:


    Two points remain: the teapot appears to be contaminated at levels so far beyond Litvinenko’s dosage it could never be the vessel for his poison, and the tea pot was outside custody for 6 weeks, making it impossible to prove it wasn’t spiked as a way to cover up for the real crime.

    And as many have pointed out, the tea doesn’t work with Litvinenko’s trail, which was one of external Po-210 being dispersed, not some from bodily tissues. It is a ruse of some kind.

  5. AJStrata says:


    keep is civil or take hike. If you were such a brilliant mind you would know that someone getting a dose of 10 millionths of a gram in a cup of tea would not be getting it from a tea pot showing orders of magnitude more Po-210. The physics (or chemistry in this case) is that 10 millionths of a gram per ounce (which a very conservative estimate) will not show “hot” with P0-210. And the chemistry demands the pot and cup and human show a consistent dosage in terms of grams/ml. And they don’t. So maybe you SHOULD exercise your mind a bit more when reading the news.

  6. AJStrata says:


    Sadly you are wrong. The delay chain is constant an begins when the material was created. So whether it was a day before or 5 weeks before the delay time is measured since it was created. There is no evidence from when the tea pot waa contaminated. The decay time doesn’t relate to that event.

  7. Snapple says:

    The way Russians make tea may be an important clue. It may explain why the teapot was much more radioactive than the cup.

    It is a point that nobody has made, and it is a very good point.

    None of you physics experts mentioned it because you don’t know about Russians. I do.

    Russians don’t change the way they drink tea just because they move to another country. It is very likely that a Russian would tell the room service what kind of containers to bring. A good hotel might even make it “Russian style” for Russians who ask.

    Russians even carry their teapots when they go hiking and make it in their traditional way.

    Although the KGB usually kills people in ways that look like accidents or illness, sometimes they make their point publically and absorb the bad press. Trotsky was killed with an ice pick. That was hardly subtle. The murders in Chechnya are pretty brazen, too.
    Putin is a KGB thug.

    I think the best minds in England and America are working on this case.

  8. Snapple says:

    AJ writes:

    “Two points remain: the teapot appears to be contaminated at levels so far beyond Litvinenko’s dosage it could never be the vessel for his poison.”

    The teapot could have been used to make the concentrated tea laced with the polonium. A few tablespoons of this would be poured in a cup and then the cup would be filled with boiling water–this would dilute the polonium to about 0ne-tenth of its radioactivity.

    I am not saying this happened, but knowing how Russians ALWAYS make their tea, is something to consider.

  9. Snapple says:

    The British seem to be gearing up to check people for polonium contamination.

    If innocent people used that teapot, they may show evidence of radioactivity. That would suggest that the teapot was in circulation since Litvinenko was poisoned–not a later plant.

  10. Snapple says:

    Ermit writes:

    “Brits make tea the same way as Russians but they don’t pour boiling water into the cup afterwards.”

    Then they DO NOT make tea the same way.

    It is even possible that the hotel room had a tap for boiling water.
    I have been in British hotels that had a boiling water tap so people could make tea. The concentrated tea could be made in the teapot, and then the cup filled with boiling water, cutting the concentration.

    The police may have made the assumption that the polonium was dropped into a cup, since they found a cup, so they didn’t look for a teapot right away.

    This Russian way of tea-making is something Russians are very obsessive about, so it should be considered.

    British experts on Russia would know this.

  11. Snapple says:

    AJ writes:” the chemistry demands the pot and cup and human show a consistent dosage in terms of grams/ml. And they don’t. ”

    Not if the tea was made Russian-style (and Russians are extremely picky about this).

    If the tea concentrate was contaminated in the teapot and then non-contaminated boiling water was added to a small amount of concentrate in the tea cup, the dosage would be different. The cup might be only one-tenth as contaminated.

    It would be interesting to know how the tea was ordered or if there was a boiling-water spigot in the hotel room.

    What is the ratio of contamination from the cup to the teapot?

    Is it perhaps one-tenth to one fourth? That would be consistent with tea concentrate in the teapot being the source of contamination.

  12. Snapple says:

    Here is an article about how Russians make tea. They make a big production of this; trust me.


  13. Soothsayer says:

    Some clarification Mr. Strata:

    Soothsayer: Quite frankly your logic su**s . . . . Go back to school little one we only have big boys here.

    is civil, but there’s something wrong with:

    You think the Brits don’t have “nuclear engineers” calculating this crap?


    As for:

    So maybe you SHOULD exercise your mind a bit more when reading the news.

    Perhaps so, but perhaps YOU and MERLIN – who appear to spend the majority of your waking hours on the keypad should rethink solving crimes from 3,000 miles away and thinking there’s no one in Great Britain with brains enough to figure this out without your input. They do have Stephen Hawking, after all.

    So far, Snapple seems to have the most reasonable explanation.

  14. AJStrata says:


    I could care less how Russians make tea – the physics in their part of the world is the same as ours. It is why I do not get diverted by the media stories and all the intrigue. It all still has to follow the laws of physics and chemistry. We do not have enough details to refine scenarios to any detail. That is why the only time I discuss the options is when I see indications the magnitude of Po-210 is great enough to stand out regardless of the specifics of the scenario.
    Keep posting your thoughts – they help me work out any problems in my propositions

  15. Koba says:

    So now it is all cleared up then if the British media are to be believed. We have Colonel Mustard caught red-handed in the library with the lead pipe. Or in the Russian version of Clue/Cluedo, Mr Lugovoi in the Pine Bar with the teapot.

    I will leave the physics to AJ and others, but this would not pass muster in Clue. To believe this story, you have to believe that the assassin booked himself into hotel rooms under his own name to commit multiple assassination attempts on separate occasions. No thought of booking in as the Rev. Green, apparently.

    You believe too that, having failed once or twice already, his paymasters chose to persevere with the Polonium plot rather than more tried and tested methods such as the old-fashioned bullet.

    You must further believe that Lugovoi did not make any attempt to remove the evidence, even though the contaminated teapot – if it was that ‘hot’ – would presumably soon be wreaking havoc among the tea drinking public of Mayfair.

    You accept that by using the teapot rather than placing the solution (or substance) in an individual teacup, he exposed himself and Kovtun to the same threat. (Or did he ostentatiously insist on Earl Grey while the others had English Breakfast?)

    You must also believe that by choosing a very particular substance as his weapon, Polonium 210, he was happy to leave a rather obvious trail pointing right back to Moscow.

    And you believe that he did this knowing that Litvinenko’s death might take several weeks, during which time Litvinenko would surely re-trace his footsteps and ponder about the people with whom he had supped tea.

    And all this was for the hired hand, Litvinenko, not the main man – Berezovsky.

  16. Ermit says:

    Let me express doubt about boiling water pipelines in hotels. They are subject to ruptures and explosions. Boiling water means 100 degrees centigrade.

  17. per says:

    “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.”
    you don’t have a clue what you are talking about. You have obviously never worked with radioisotopes.

    The chemical form of the radioisotope adsorbs to and /or reacts with the porcelain; it doesn’t have to be a very efficient reaction, it can be merely one part in a million; and yet you get a great deal of contamination, which is effectively fixed.

    You don’t have a clue what “off the charts” means, but it doesn’t stop you creating elaborate fantasies based on no knowledge. And you imagine that people are using Po-210 in teacups all the time ! If only I had a nuclear reactor in my backyard, that might be true !

    this stuff is tin-foil hat territory.


  18. Snapple says:

    British hotel rooms have teakettles or small units that boil water.

    It is heated right at the spigot, not before it comes to the room.

    Many European bathrooms heat the water right as it comes out of the tap–not from a boiler someplace else.

  19. Soothsayer says:

    In my experience – the water is hot enough for tea – about like a Mr. Coffee – but it’s not boiling when it comes out of the tap.

    And a real tea drinker certainly always wants loose leaves and a full boil to get those tea leaves dancing.

  20. per says:

    Koba ridicules the idea of using Polonium 210 to kill someone, but ignores much of the contemporary evidence. Until the day before his death (ie after 19 days of investigation), they didn’t know that Litvinenko had been poisoned with a radioisotope. If they didn’t know it was a radioisotope, you wouldn’t know what to look for, and you wouldn’t find the trail back to Moscow.

    In contrast to your supposition, Lugovoi and Kovtun were contaminated with Po up to two weeks before November 1, when they met with Litvinenko. That’s one of the reasons that it is difficult to imagine an innocent explanation for L&K’s acts.

    Sure, L&K left contaminated teapots/ cups; but it is quite clear that no-one trained them in radioisotope handling. It is also clear that – so long as the utensils were washed out- there is no practical chance of anyone else getting a sufficient dose to cause health effects.