MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
We're going to begin with today's developments in the case of the former KGB spy who died of radiation poisoning last week in London. The apparent murder of one man named Alexander Litvinenko has unfolded into a story with very broad implications, even involving public health.
NORRIS: The British government now says that a dozen sites have been found to be contaminated with radioactive substances. Five airplanes have been searched and there's word that doctors believe a former Russian prime minister may have been poisoned as well.
SIEGEL: We're going to touch all of those bases, find out more about Polonium 10 and why Scotland Yard is questioning our own Scott Simon.
First, NPR's Rob Gifford reports from London.
ROB GIFFORD: Britain's Home Secretary John Reid today made a statement to the House of Commons about the ongoing investigation into the death of Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko. He said that about 24 sites were being investigated and 12 of them had shown traces of radioactivity. The investigation has also widened to include five aircraft, two of which have been confirmed to be contaminated.
In Parliament, Reid linked the contamination in London to the radioactive element found in Alexander Litvinenko's body.
Mr. JOHN REID (Home Secretary, Great Britain): In most of these cases that have identified the contamination as Polonium 210, it is at very low levels in some cases, at higher levels in other, though none of them we think is a health hazard of any significance.
GIFFORD: Some 30,000 people have flown on those two aircraft alone since police believe they became contaminated a month ago. They're focusing on four flights between London and Moscow at the end of October and early November, but the aircraft used on those flights have taken at least 200 more flights since then. Passengers like Mickey Embelton have expressed concern that they might be contaminated.
Ms. MICKEY EMBELTON: You know, I think it's going to be quite a low chance of any of the passengers being affected by that, but then you still think in the back of your mind, I used the bathroom, I had lunch on the plan. There was air conditioning on the plane. This very, very dangerous substance could have been somewhere on that plane.
GIFFORD: Hotlines have been set up for people to call if they're concerned they've been in contact with radiation, but passenger Tessa Macgregor said she called the line and found it useless.
Ms. TESSA MACGREGOR): They just gave me a statement which sounded like it'd been rehearsed very many times. They didn't really give me any advice at all. They didn't ask what flight I was on. They didn't ask me even my name.
GIFFORD: Britain's National Health Service has since clarified that only people who are feeling unwell should contact the hotline. Meanwhile, the autopsy on the body of Alexander Litvinenko begins tomorrow. Litvinenko's friend and fellow critic of President Vladimir Putin, Alex Goldfarb, said he believed the discovery of contamination on airplanes on the route between London's Heathrow and Moscow airports backed his claim of Russian government involvement in Litvinenko's death.
Mr. ALEX GOLDFARB: The first flight they're interested in occurred five days before the poisoning and it is the Moscow Heathrow flight on the 25th of October, which tells us that the police are looking obviously for the ways of delivery of this material to London. And this kind of reinforces the theory that the origin of this material that killed Alexander is in Moscow.
GIFFORD: One more development today. Doctors in Moscow have said they believe former Russian Prime Minister Igor Gaidar might have been poisoned while attending a conference in Ireland last week. Gaidar is still hospitalized in Moscow. His daughter Maria says she believes her father was poisoned, but she doesn't think President Putin's government was involved.
Ms. MARIA GAIDER: Well, I can say that the doctors - it's not an official conclusion, but so far the doctors cannot see any other reason of the condition of my father than that he was poisoned. But I think that this could not be some actions of Russian authorities, Russian regime, against my father. So I don't really believe it. But I think it's a political poisoning, of course, to have an idea of destabilization of the (unintelligible) in Russia.
GIFFORD: The Kremlin has consistently denied any involvement in the death of Alexander Litvinenko and a spokesman today said the President Putin himself had phoned Igor Gaidar in the hospital to wish him a speedy recovery.
Rob Gifford, NPR News, London.
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