Polonium and Kovtun

Boris Zhuikov, Dr. Sci.
Head of Laboratory of Radioisotope Complex
Institute for Nuclear Research of Russian Academy of Sciences

Dmitry Kovtun. Photo BBC News

Dmitry Kovtun. Photo BBC News

The public inquiry into the death of Alexander Litvinenko, supposed to be poisoned by polonium-210, recommenced on July 24th in London. Recently the businessman Dmitry Kovtun, suspected by the British authorities to be involved with this murder (as well as Andrey Lugovoy, deputy the Duma of Russian Federation), declared his desire to participate in the hearing via a videoconference from Moscow.

Sir Robert Owen, Chairman of the inquiry, has designated Mr Kovtun as a core participant to the inquiry after he had agreed to meet a number of conditions. In his public appearances Kovtun claimed that his lawyers would “tear to shreds” all charges against him. Kovtun also presented his own version of events: Litvinenko regularly handled polonium in a wrong way, so polonium was accumulating in his body long before his encounter with Lugovoy and Kovtun, what, actually would repeat the old version of a number of Russian media.

It is extremely difficult to prove this version having in mind the materials that had already been published during the inquiry [1], as well as any other version except for poisoning Litvinenko with the aim of killing him. The technical aspect of the case is considered in detail in our previous article [2]. Generally, we could say that Kovtun version does not corresponds many results of radioactivity measurements. So, before the tea at Pine Bar of Millennium hotel on November 1st 2006, not in any of the 8 places only Litvinenko had visited (and Lugovoy and Kovtun did not), any traces of polonium within the sensitivity of detection were found (see [1] — INQ017934-018198, paragraphs 3, 8, 13, 16, 17, 34, 41 and 42).

It has been also discovered that polonium got inside Alexander Litvinenko’s body not via inhalation, but through the gastrointestinal tract. This means that if Litvinenko used to work with polonium, his job was obviously to eat it. At the same time in Pine Bar, where Lugovoy and Kovtun according to his own words regaled him with unpalatable tea, strongly contaminated by polonium dinnerware was found.

Moreover, radiography of Litvinenko’s hair showed that the main — lethal — dose of polonium was introduced into his body approximately on November 1st. Much less activity (100 times less) could get inside during the other meetings as well — on October 16th or, probably October 26th –27th. On the contrary, polonium activity discovered by Russian health professionals inside of Kovtun’s and Lugovoy’s bodies, was very small — thousands times smaller than by Litvinenko. While external contamination caused by Lugovoy and Kovtun was sometimes by many orders of magnitude bigger than external contamination caused by Litvinenko, which moreover started to appear after his encounter with Lugovoy and Kovtun on November 1st. Lugovoy and Kovtun started to leave traces of contamination prior to Nevember 1st, and also in places that Litvinenko never visited.

It is also absolutely improbable that Andrey Lugovoy and Dmitry Kovtun could have received the amount of polonium found in their bodies from Litvinenko by the droplet infection, as the Russian General Procurator’s office assumed. If to suppose this case Kovtun would have to consume about 1/​1000 of all Litvinenko‘s biotic substrates (for example sweat, urine, feces), in other words, in amount not less than 70 g, and Lugovoy — not less than 7 g, and taking into account incomplete assimilability of polonium — even several times more. So the version of Kovtun getting “infected” by Litvinenko could unlikely be considered as a serious one. That’s why Kovtun’s intention to participate in the inquiry and prove he is right surprised many people.

But the investigation of the existing facts shows that the evidence against Kovtun really seems to be less solid than the one against Lugovoy. So for example according to the data of the inquiry, Kovtun (as well as Litvinenko) hasn’t been in the room 848 of Sheraton Park Lane hotel, where Andrey Lugovoy stayed on October 25th –28th and where later enormous polonium amount of “primary” nature was detected (which means that this amount could be directly used for poisoning). Probably by questioning Kovtun’s guiltiness, there was a chance to cause distrust to the prosecution in general.

In this article I do not intend to consider neither the motives, nor the political aspects or conspiracy versions of the case, I would rather like to attract attention to the results of the radioactivity measurements that matter in the charges against Kovtun. Probably that would help the readers of the article to make up their own opinion.

And so, what information on polonium traces do we have that would actually affect Dmitry Kovtun? In most cases the polonium traces that could be attributed to Kovtun are found in the places where Lugovoy could be present as well. And still in some cases the polonium activity connected with Kovtun turned out to be higher.

1. According to the analysis made by Russian specialists and presented to the British inquiry, Kovtun was contaminated internally by polonium 1000 times less than Litvinenko, but 10 times more than Lugovoy. From these facts we could gather that Kovtun manipulated polonium more than Lugovoy.

2. High polonium activity has been detected in Tim Reilly’s office at Erinys Int., where on October 16th in a meeting Litvinenko, Lugovoy and Kovtun were present. According to the statements of the witnesses ([1] — Day 10, page 85; INQ018987) Kovtun was sitting in a chair (“red chair” on picture [1] — INQ017924), where later great polonium activity was detected — 1 million Bq* — «primary» contamination, obviously connected with the initial product for poisoning. And it is much higher than on the chairs, where other participants were sitting. Very high activity was also detected on the table at the place where Andrey Lugovoy’s hands were put. The inquiry should clarify whether somebody could have changed the places of the chairs.

3. Dmitry Kovtun left polonium traces in Hamburg when visiting his ex-wife and her child on October 28th –31st   2006, where there were neither Lugovoy nor Litvinenko present. But the measured radioactivity level turned out to be very low (less than 23 counts per second (cps) which is about 7 Bq/​cm2 *). This proves that the contaminations were of secondary character and could have been brought in after Kovtun visited London on October 16th. Such amounts of polonium pose no threat to common people. That’s why the German public prosecution office withdrew from Kovtun the accusations of illegal transportation of radioactive materials.

4. And finally it is important to estimate the traces in Millennium hotel, where Lugovoy and Kovtun used to stay and where according to the inquiry information on November 1st in Pine Bar the poisoning took place. In room 441 used to stay Lugovoy and his wife, there have been found polonium contaminations up to 250 cps ([1] — INQ018097). In room 382, where Kovtun stayed together with Dmitry Sokolenko much higher radioactivity was discovered — up to 3800 cps, in the sediment trap — over 272 thousands Bq/​cm2 ([1] — INQ018136). (Dmitry Sokolenko is Kovtun’s business-partner, former KGB officer, the head of a private security service; the inquiry didn’t find any reasons to suspect him.) One could assume that those contaminations were left by a visitor, for example, by Lugovoy. But there were some critical contaminations on the pillow and bedspread, on the shower curtain and on other objects.

Obviously during the hearings on July 27th – 29th 2015 Kovtun and his lawyers had to explain the polonium contaminations in these places.

* The amount of radioactive substances is usually measured in Becquerels (Bq), which means in the number of nuclear decays per second. Dosimeters usually register activity in counts per second (cps). Some equipment takes into account the efficiency of registration and the area of the analyzed surface, show the results in other units, Bq/​cm2. In these particular cases the results in cps were usually about three times bigger than in Bq/​cm2. But it depends also on the distribution of the radioactive substance at the surface and into the depth.


1. The Litvinenko inquiry. Hearings, — www.litvinenkoinquiry.org/hearings

2. B. Zhuikov. New facts in Litvinenko case. What did the radioactivity measurements show /​/​ Troitskiy Variant – Nauka, No. 176, April 7, 2015, pp. 4–5 — http://trv-science.ru/2015/04/07/novye-fakty-v-dele-litvinenko/ (in Russian)

См. так­же вер­сию по-рус­ски:
Поло­ний и Ковтун

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Один комментарий

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    Ковтун-сын совет­ско­го гене­ра­ла, кото­рый был внед­рен КГБ в Германию.Но немец­кая поли­ция после убий­ста Лит­ви­нен­ко обна­ру­жи­ла боль­шое коли­че­ство поло­ния 210 в квар­ти­ре тещи Ковтуна.Он или теща зачем-то откры­ли этот сосуд с полонием.Загрязнили всю квар­ти­ру. Его поэто­му быст­ро лиши­ли немец­ко­го гражданства.Этот изо­топ поло­ния очень дорог,т. к. полу­ча­ет толь­ко иску­ствен­но. На авто­ма­шине работ­ник ФСБ Ковтун ввез поло­ний в Гер­ма­нию, а отту­да на само­ле­те в Великобританию.Это выяс­ни­ли дотош­ные жур­на­ли­сты и рас­тру­би­ли по все­му миру.
    Жур­на­ли­сты утвер­джа­ют, что этот уни­каль­ный спо­соб убийства(как и необыч­ное отрав­ле­ние слож­ным ядом на осно­ве диок­си­на пре­зи­ден­та Укра­и­ны Ющен­ко) впер­вые был опро­бо­ван на депу­та­те Гос­Ду­мы от пар­тии Ябло­ка Юрии Шеко­чи­хине, за то, что тот попы­тал­ся рас­сле­до­вать взры­вы домов в Москве.
    а не за его кни­ту о сту­ка­чах КГБ

    Вину на отрав­ле­ние его сва­ли­ли на Бере­зов­ско­го, а тело Шеко­чи­хи­на запре­ти­ли экс­гу­ми­ро­вать вра­чам, что­бы опре­де­лить зага­доч­ную для вра­чей при­чи­ну смер­ти госчи­нов­ни­ки.
    Ковтун что-то скры­ва­ет. Он не дал вто­рой пресс кон­фе­рен­ции жур­на­ли­стам.

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