The public inquiry into the murder of Alexander Litvinenko is rapidly turning into an ugly farce, and a blatant extension of the campaign to demonise Russia, and in particular its president, Vladimir Putin. Headlines from the inquiry are appearing next to calls to arm Ukraine against Russia.
The inquiry continued on 2 February with the revelation that Litvinenko, a former Russian secret service (FSB) agent, was paid £2,000 a month by MI6, though the security services insist he was not a spy, just a “consultant”.
Lurid headlines have been filling the papers, including the claim repeated today (3 February) that Putin is a paedophile. A particularly inflammatory allegation made by QC Robin Tam was that the murder of Litvinenko might have put “many thousands” at risk of radioactivity and that it constituted “a miniature nuclear attack on London”.
But quite how polonium-210 is supposed to constitute a nuclear attack on Britain’s capital is a mystery. Polonium-210 is an alpha emitter. External alpha radiation is not in itself harmful: a few centimetres of air, or a piece of paper, or even the thin layer of dead skin cells on the skin surface protect people from alpha particles.
Even touching an alpha source is not necessarily harmful (unless it is part of a skin-permeable solution). Only when substances emitting alpha particles are ingested, inhaled, injected or introduced through the skin, are they harmful. Still, in the current political climate anything goes, provided it casts Russia in a bad light.