Lethal Specks

Hugh Pennington

Hiroshima and Nagasaki apart, there have been very few deaths from acute radiation poisoning. Thirty-one firemen, engineers and others at Chernobyl; two physicists who fumbled when handling a sphere of plutonium at Los Alamos, one in 1946 and one in 1947; and a few others, including some contaminated by contact with illegally dumped radiation sources, are the only people to have been lethally irradiated in a non-medical setting. Alexander Litvinenko joins them. But his death from polonium-210 is unprecedented. This is the first time – to our knowledge – that someone has been deliberately killed by the administration of a radioactive substance.

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