Following the Trail
210Po has a radiological half-life of 139 days. It disperses over time, contaminating the environment and leaving a trail behind, a unique property called “creeping.”2 This quality, coupled with the availability of detection and quantification devices, allowed authorities to retrace Litvinenko’s footsteps on November 1, 2006, in order to establish where he was poisoned.
He began the day with a bus ride into London, where he stopped at a shop for a paper and bottle of water. He then met Italian nuclear waste and security consultant Mario Scaramella for sushi. Tests indicated no 210Po on the bus, the ticket, or in the shop where he bought the paper and water. There were, however, traces of the poison found in the sushi restaurant, but not at the table where he and Scaramella ate.1
Litvinenko then met with Boris Berezovsky, the man he refused to assassinate years before. He warned Berezovsky of yet another assassination order, information provided by Scaramella. Samples taken from Berezovsky’s office tested positive for trace amounts of 210Po.1
Next, Litvinenko went to the Millennium Hotel where he met Andrei Lugovoi, a former KGB agent, and Dmitri Kovtun to discuss possible business ventures. Litvinenko drank tea during the meeting. Samples from the bar showed levels of 210Po that were “off the charts.”1 Litvinenko’s tea cup was contaminated, as were many of the hotel employees. For these reasons, investigators believe this is where he was poisoned.10
The evidence points to Lugovoi and Kovtun. Traces of 210Po were detected virtually everywhere they went: their planes to London; the hotels where they stayed; the sushi restaurant (Litvinenko met them there two weeks prior to meeting with Scaramella); Berezovsky’s office (the two men had paid him a visit); and the London stadium seat where Lugovoi sat during a Russian football match. Furthermore, both men tested positive for 210Po exposure upon returning to Russia and were subsequently hospitalized. Despite this evidence, both Lugovoi and Kovtun vehemently deny the allegations and insist they were framed.1