ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – No luck shopping for that hard-to-buy-for science hobbyist in the family? The rare isotope suspected to have felled former KGB spy Alexander Litvinenko is surprisingly easy to buy — in fact, for $69, it's a mouse click away.
The polonium-210 you can get online from Sandia Park, N.M.-based United Nuclear is available to the general public in 0.1 microcurie units, an invisibly tiny amount that's exempt from federal licensing restrictions, according the company's Web site.
In a note on the site, United Nuclear founder Bob Lazar says it's not a practical poison: You'd need 15,000 orders from him, more than $1 million worth, to potentially harm anyone, and each order comes electroplated on the inside of the eye of a needle.
Lazar — a former Las Vegas resident who gained attention years ago for claiming to have worked on a crashed UFO at the Nevada military base known as Area 51 — was out of town and not available for comment Friday, said Michelle, his customer service agent. She declined to give her last name and said she could not answer any questions. But she noted that Lazar recently updated his Web site to deal with the clamor over polonium-210 that followed Litvinenko's death.
The site — http://www.unitednuclear.com/isotopes.htm — says it aims to put the fun back into science by selling an array of scientific materials and equipment, as well as things like science-themed T-shirts and coffee mugs.
Lazar says he sells only one or two orders of polonium every three months. He claims he does not stock the isotopes but can get them made to order at an NRC-licensed reactor in Oak Ridge, Tenn. The isotope is then shipped "directly to the customer from the reactor to insure the longest possible half-life."
The target audience is science hobbyists, industry, government, schools and universities, the Web site says.