Polonium export controls 'tough', says Russia nuclear chief

Russia’s top nuclear official said today that his country tightly controls all exports of polonium, the radioactive isotope that British authorities suspect killed former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko in London.

Rosatom director Sergei Kiriyenko also ruled out that the polonium found in Britain and linked to Litvinenko’s mysterious death last week could have been stolen from a production facility in Russia.

“Allegations that someone stole it during production are absolutely unfounded,” Kiriyenko told a news conference.

“The controls are very tough,” he said, adding that companies importing polonium from Russia are obliged to sign a certificate guaranteeing it is not misused.

Kiriyenko said Russia exports eight grams of polonium 210 monthly, all of it to the USA. He said Russia used to provide it to British companies but that exports to Britain ended about five years ago.

While he stressed the tough export controls on polonium 210, Kiriyenko said that final products in which it is used, including gauges used for the production of paint and in the printing business, are outside official controls.

Earlier Russian defence minister Sergei Ivanov denied that Russian security forces were involved in the poisoning death of Litvinenko, saying that was not in the Kremlin’s interests, according to an interview.

Litvinenko, 43, a former KGB agent who was a fierce critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, died on Thursday of heart failure after falling gravely ill from what doctors said was poisoning by the radioactive polonium 210.

In an interview with the German weekly Der Spiegel, which was reprinted in the Russian government daily Rossiyskaya Gazeta, Ivanov was asked if Russian special services were involved.

“I rule out that possibility. I don’t see any sense (in that),” he was quoted as saying.

“As far as high-profile killings are concerned, I don’t like that word, because it doesn’t matter who was killed – a politician, a journalist, or someone else – any murder is a disgusting crime in itself,” he said.

Ivanov, a former KGB general, lamented that contract killings were taking place in Russia, but stressed that some of them have been solved.

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