Russia steps up 'spy death' radiation checks
Russia's transport ministry today announced increased radiation checks on international flights and at international airports across the country, as investigators searched a British Airways jet grounded in Moscow for traces of radiation.
British authorities found radioactive traces on two British Airways jetliners in London yesterday during the search for clues in the poisoning death of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko. Investigators were to search the third plane at Moscow's Domodedevo airport as early as Thursday.
The British government announced today that it was also interested in two Russian aircraft, one of which is operated by Transaero and landed at London's Heathrow airport Monday morning. He said investigators had questions about another Russian plane, but gave no details about it.
A spokeswoman for Transaero said no radiation or any other toxic substance had been found on its plane, but it was not immediately possible to confirm this with Britain's Home Office, which is in charge of security.
The Russian ministry said it had issued a directive to regional authorities and airports ``to increase security for aircraft of international air companies, in particular monitoring the transport of liquids and gels as well as monitoring radiation levels in the cockpit and passengers' cabin.''
In Britain, thousands of passengers aboard some 200 British Airways flights were being contacted.
Litvinenko died November 23 in a London hospital more than three weeks after he said he had been poisoned. British health officials have found high levels of the radioactive material polonium-210 in his body, and have begun a screening program for people who visited the same venues as Litvinenko on November 1.
Traces of radiation have been found at six sites visited by the ex-spy.
Meanwhile, Lev Fyodorov, head of the Union for Chemical Safety in Moscow, said that traces of radiation detected on the British Airways jets could not have been emitted by polonium-210, Interfax news agency reported. He said it could have come from the plane's onboard instruments or solar activity or something else, according to the report.
``For a trace of polonium-210 to be left someplace, it needs to be either scattered or spilled if it exists in a dissolved state. However, this all is quite dangerous, primarily for those who could resort to such a step,'' Fyodorov was quoted as saying.