Nuclear crime

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Nuclear crime is the best term for criminal acts which involve the use of nuclear or radioactive materials. These crimes include both acts where a person intended to cause harm to another and also acts where a person acted with "reckless indifference" to the safety and welfare of others. Many of these "reckless indifference" acts involve breaches of health and safety laws.


[edit] Misuse of alpha emitters for murder/attempted murder

Two well known cases exist. In Germany, a man attempted to murder a woman with plutonium. In 2006, former KGB officer Alexander Litvinenko was killed in London by persons unknown (as of 2006) using the short-lived alpha emitter polonium-210.

[edit] Plutonium

In the German case, a man attempted to poison his ex-wife with plutonium stolen from WAK (Wiederaufbereitungsanlage Karlsruhe), a small scale reprocessing plant where he worked. He did not steal a large amount of plutonium, just some rags used for wiping surfaces and a small amount of liquid waste. The man was eventually sent to prison.<ref></ref><ref></ref> At least two people (besides the criminal) were contaminated by the plutonium.<ref></ref> Two flats in Landau in the Rhineland-Palatinate were contaminated, and had to be cleaned at a cost of two million euro.<ref></ref> For photographs of the case and details of other nuclear crimes see [1] which was presented by a worker at the ITU.

[edit] The Litvinenko murder

During Litvinenko's medical treatment more than one hypothesis existed as to the cause of Litvinenko's ill health. The first theory was that it was a normal case of thallium poisoning. Later, it was suggested that a radioactive isotope of thallium had been used. The third and final hypothesis (following Litvinenko's death) was that he had been poisoned with a radioactive isotope of polonium. All the evidence now indicates that polonium was used to kill Litvinenko.

It is likely that the medical doctor failed to recognize the correct cause of the illness as very few medical doctors have experience with radiological illness or injury.

[edit] Radioactive thallium

It was then suggested that a radioactive isotope of thallium might have been used.<ref>Template:Cite web</ref>

Dr. Amit Nathwani, one of Litvinenko's physicians, reported: "His symptoms are slightly odd for thallium poisoning, and the chemical levels of thallium we were able to detect are not the kind of levels you'd see in toxicity."<ref> Template:Cite web</ref> Hours before his death, three unidentified circular-shaped objects were found in his stomach via an X-ray scan.<ref>(Spanish)Template:Cite web</ref> It is thought these objects were almost certainly shadows caused by the presence of Prussian blue, the treatment he had been given for thallium poisoning.<ref name="Condition Deteriorates">Template:Cite web</ref>

Following a deterioration of his condition on 20 November, Litvinenko was moved into intensive care. It was reported that his doctors had given him a 50/50 chance of survival over the three- to four-week period following the poisoning.<ref name="50/50">

 | title =  Ex-Russian spy dies in hospital
 | publisher =  BBC 
 | date = 24 November 2006
 | url =
 | accessdate = 2006-11-24 }}</ref> 

News reports at this stage kept an open mind on the cause of Litvinenko's condition, with Scotland Yard considering whether the poison could have been self-administered.<ref name="Ex-spy dies">Template:Cite web

 | title =      Poisoned former KGB man dies in hospital
 | publisher =  The Guardian 
 | date = 24 November 2006
 | url =,,1955864,00.html
 | accessdate = 2006-11-24 }}</ref>

[edit] Polonium-210

Shortly after his death, the BBC reported that preliminary tests on the body of Alexander Litvinenko have indicated that he was poisoned with the radioactive isotope polonium-210 which was most likely inhaled or ingested, and traces of which were found at three London locations: in his Muswell Hill home, at a hotel in Grosvenor Square, and at the sushi restaurant where he had met Scaramella.

<ref name="BBC Polonium">

Template:Cite web</ref><ref>(Russian) Template:Cite web</ref>

The UK's Health Protection Agency confirmed that they were investigating the risks to people who have been in contact with him.<ref name="HPA Press Release"> Template:Cite web</ref>

[edit] Details of the radiological threat posed by polonium-210

At a committed effective dose equivalent (CEDE) of 5.14×10−7 Sieverts per Becquerel (1.9×103 mrem/µCi) for ingested 210Po and a specific activity of 1.66×1014 Bq/g (4.49×103 Ci/g)[2] the amount of material required to produce a lethal dose of radiation poisoning would be only about 0.12 micrograms (1.17×10−7g). The CEDE is normally used for expressing how likely internal exposure is to cause cancer, as the effective half life in humans of polonium is 37 days and the time between the poisoning and the death was short then the dose suffered by Alexander Litvinenko per unit of activity would have been lower than the CEDE. The biological halflife is 30 to 50 days in humans.[3]

[edit] Improper transport

The transport of radioactive materials is controlled by a series of criminal laws and is also covered by civil law. In several cases radioactive materials have been transported incorrectly and this has lead to either exposure (or potential exposure) of humans to radiation.

[edit] The bus and the radiography set

Transport accidents can cause a release of radioactivity resulting in contamination or shielding to be damaged resulting in direct irradiation. In Cochabamba a defective gamma radiography set containing a iridium-192 source was transported in a passenger bus as cargo.[4] The gamma source was outside the shielding, and it irradiated some bus passengers. The dose suffered by the passengers was initially estimated as being between 20 mGy and 2.77 Gy, but when the accident was reconstructed by placing dosimeters on seats before placing a similar radiography source in the cargo hold of the bus. The dose estimated by this experiment was no more than 500 mGy for the most exposed passenger.

[edit] AEA technology and the medical source

March 11, 2002 – A 2.5 metric ton 60Co gamma source was transported from Cookridge Hospital, Leeds, UK, to Sellafield with defective shielding. As the radiation escaped from the package downwards into the ground, it is not thought that this event caused any injury or disease in either a human or an animal. This event was treated in a serious manner because the defense in depth type of protection for the source had been eroded. If the container had been tipped over in a road crash then a strong beam of gamma rays would have been directed in a direction where it would be likely to irradiate humans. The company responsible for the transport of the source, AEA Technology plc, was fined £250,000 by a British court.

[edit] Trafficking in radioactive and nuclear materials

Some cases of theft and/or smuggling of nuclear/radioactive materials have been reported.[5] These cases differ from the scrap metal theft which results in the lost source events because it is the intention of the criminal to obtain radioactive/nuclear materials. Many of these events involve unenriched uranium or thorium, but a few of them involve either enriched uranium or plutonium. [6]

[edit] Quack medicine

In the early 20th century a series of "medical" products which contained radioactivity were marketed to the general public, these are included in this discussion of nuclear/radioactive crime because the sale and production of these products is now covered by criminal law. Because some perfectly good radioactive medical products exist (such as iodine-131 for the treatment of cancer) it is important to note that the sale of the products similar to those described below is criminal because they are unlicensed medicines.

Radithor was a well known patent medicine/snake oil that is possibly the best known example of radioactive quackery. It consisted of triple distilled water containing at a minimum 1 microcurie each of the Radium 226 and 228 isotopes, as well as 1 microcurie of isothiouronium, a cheaper radioactive compound.

Radithor was manufactured from 1918 - 1928 by the Bailey Radium Laboratories, Inc., of East Orange, New Jersey. The head of the laboratories was listed as Dr. William J. A. Bailey, not a medical doctor.<ref> Literary Digest, 16 April 1932.</ref> It was advertised as "A Cure for the Living Dead"<ref></ref> as well as "Perpetual Sunshine".

These radium elixirs were marketed similar to the way opiates were peddled to the masses with Laudanum an age earlier, and electrical cure-alls during the same time period such as the Prostate Warmer.<ref></ref>

The eventual death of the socialite Eben Byers from Radithor consumption and the associated radiation poisoning led to the strengthening of the Food and Drug Administration's powers and the demise of most radiation quack cures.

[edit] Associated links

[edit] Theft of radioactive sources

In several cases radioactive sources has been stolen during attempts by scrap metal workers to steal scrap metal, this results in what is known as a lost source accident. In addition in most part of the world it is a criminal act to lose (or otherwise dispose of in an unapproved manner) a radioactive source. Some objects by virtue of their low level of radioactivity (such as smoke alarms) can be placed in the normal domestic waste but as a rule radioactive waste must be disposed of as hazardous waste.

A lost source accident[7][8] is one where a radioactive object is lost or stolen. Such objects often end up in the scarp metal industry, as people mistake them for harmless bits of metal.[9] The International Atomic Energy Agency has provided guides for scrap metal collectors on what a sealed source might look like.[10][11] The best known example of this type of event is the Goiânia accident, in Brazil.

While some lost source accidents have not involved the scrap metal industry, they are still good examples of the likely scale and scope of a lost source accident. For example, the Soviet army left sources behind in Lilo, Georgia. Another case occurred at Yanango, Peru where a radiography source was lost and at Gilan, Iran a radiography source harmed a welder [12].

Radioactive sources have a wide range of uses in medicine and industry, it is common for the design (and nature) of a source to be talyored to the application so it is impossible to state with confidence what the "typical" source looks like or contains. For instance antistatic devices include beta and alpha emitters. For instance polonium containing devices have been used to eliminate static electricity such devices include paint spraying equipment.[13] An overview of the gamma sources used for radiography can be seen at Radiographic equipment, it is reasonable to consider this to be a good overview of small to moderate gamma sources.

[edit] Tammiku, Estonia

In Tammiku (Estonia) a group of three men were responsible for a similar incident: They burgled a radioactive waste store to steal scrap metal. One of them picked up a metal pipe and placed it in his pocket. This metal pipe was a very strong 137Cs source which gave a high localised dose to the man’s leg (1800 Sv local, 4 Sv whole body). He was admitted a few days later to hospital where he claimed to have had an accident in the woods. He died shortly after as a result of whole body irradiation from the source. Before going to the hospital, he left the source in his house where it then irradiated other members of his family and his dog (which died as a result). His son suffered a localised radiation burn (Local dose of 25 Sv, whole body 3.6 Gy) which resulted in the amputation of fingers, when he inadvertently handled the source when looking for tools to repair his bicycle. When a medical doctor saw these burns it was understood that an ionising radiation accident was in progress. The man's wife got a 500 mSv dose while his mother got a 2.25 Sv dose.[14][15][16]

It is interesting to note that the scrap metal industry was involved twice in this: the caesium source being originally found in a shipment of scrap metal which was brought into the country (at that point it was thought to be a 60Co source based on half thickness measurements). The source was placed in the radioactive waste store for safekeeping, which was subsequently entered by the men who were intent on stealing scrap metal.

[edit] Samut Prakarn

At Samut Prakarn a 15.7 TBq (425 Ci) cobalt-60 teletherapy source was lost [17], attempts were made by some scrap metal workers to recycle the metal. During this time humans were subject to irradation by the source.

It was found that at the edge of the scrap yard the dose rate was about 1 to 10 mSv hr-1. The exact location of the source in the scrap yard was determined using a fluorescent screen which acted as a scintillator. This was held on the end of a long pole.

[edit] Investigation

[edit] Nature of the radioactive source

By means of radiometric methods such as Gamma spectroscopy (or a method using a chemical separation followed by an activity measurement with a non-energy-dispersive counter), it is possible to measure the concentrations of radioisotopes and to distinguish one from another. Below is a graph drawn from databooks of how the gamma spectra of three different isotopes which relate to this case using an energy-dispersive counter such as a germanium semiconductor detector or a sodium iodide crystal (doped with thallium) scintillation counter. In this chart the line width of the spectral lines is about 1 keV and no noise is present, in real life background noise would be present and depending on the detector the line width would be larger so making it harder to make a identification and measurement of the isotope. In biological/medical work it is common to use the natural 40K present in all tissues/body fluids as a check of the equipment and as an internal standard.

Intensity against photon energy for three isotopes

[edit] See also

[edit] References


  • Radithor (ca. 1918). 15 Sep. 2004. Oak Ridge Associated Universities. 12 Apr. 2005 [18].

Nuclear crime

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