Polonium-210 On Sale For A Mere $69

The Skinny is Hillary Profita's take on the top news of the day and the best of the Internet.

The Web is abuzz with nuclear news these days. "The radioactive material that killed a former Russian spy in Britain can be bought on the Internet for $69." That was InformationWeek's lead. And it's been picked up all over the place.

Yes, Polonium-210, "which experts say is many times more deadly than cyanide," the story notes, "can be bought legally through United Nuclear Scientific Supplies, a mail-order company that sells through the Web.

Companies sell the Polonium-210 legally "for industrial use such as removing static electricity from machinery." The site is able to sell Polonium because the amount available "doesn't pose a danger, said a U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokesperson."

A USA Today article notes that: "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."

Indeed, news sites are chock full of information about where one might obtain some Polonium 210, or how one might go about exposing food to Polonium 210 (a Yale professor explains: "I'm not really a chef. You don't need a whole lot of it, though; adding it to food in some way or another need not be obvious or ostentatious.")

Because this story isn't bizarre enough, here's one more headline for you: The Polonium, a Polish restaurant in Northern England, is apparently doing gangbusters. The restaurant "has had to order extra deliveries and turn people away some days since news broke that a former Russian spy died of poisoning from radioactive polonium-210, manager Boguslaw J Sidorowicz said."

OK To Leave An A-Bomb In Times Square? You Make The Call

Worried about loose nukes? Fear not, the "nation's nuclear weapons laboratories are developing technology to make the weapons virtually impossible to use if they fall into the wrong hands," writes the Los Angeles Times front page.

Apparently, "a nuclear bomb equipped with such safeguards could theoretically be left on the streets of Los Angeles or Manhattan and terrorists would be unable, even given months of tinkering, to detonate it."

The scenario entails the weapon self destructing "without dispersing radioactivity or causing an explosion." Interesting. How does that work? "That's secret," writes the LAT. "But one possibility is that the bomb would contain a powerful acid or other chemical that would poison the uranium and plutonium. The resulting sludge theoretically could be reprocessed, but only in a highly specialized chemical-processing factory. And, the thinking goes, terrorists who had access to such a factory probably wouldn't need to steal a bomb."

What, that sounds like a highly unlikely plot line to a Jerry Bruckheimer movie to you? Well, you're not the only skeptical one. The effort, part of a secret presidential directive, "has drawn strong criticism from many nuclear weapons experts, who doubt that absolute safeguards are necessary or even possible. Instead, they say, the federal government should fix known security weaknesses at bomb labs and factories."

One critic, Philip Coyle, a former deputy director one of the nation's two nuclear weapons laboratories, put it this way: "They make it sound like you could leave a nuclear weapon on the streets of Baghdad and nobody would know what to do with it. I don't think that is quite the case. People can reverse-engineer many things."

You Can't Fire Me, I Quit!

In yet another thrilling semantic argument, the White House disputed characterizing U.N. ambassador John Bolton's departure from office as a "resignation," yet several newspapers refer to it as just that. The New York Times puts the term in its front-page headline: "Votes in Doubt, Bolton Resigns as Ambassador." Bolton, who was appointed last year during a Congressional recess will leave when his term expires at the end of the year. The NYT notes that Bush could conceivably give Bolton another recess appointment "but under the law he could not be paid for his work."

Anonymous "administration officials" said that they "dropped the idea of circumventing the Senate by appointing him to a special position at the United Nations because they did not want another fight."

Another anonymous "senior administration official" told the Washington Post (whose headline on the matter was modified to: "U.N. Ambassador Bolton Won't Stay"): "The thought was, 'Okay, at a time we're going to need help from a Democratic Congress on too many things, this is not worth it.' "

A list of potential replacements for Bolton will soon fill the pages, with today's predictions including American ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalizad "who has told colleagues he is ready to leave Baghdad," according to the NYT. Other potentials include former UNCHR ambassador Richard S. Williamson, Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio), who lost his incumbent seat, and Nicholas Burns, undersecretary of state for political affairs.

Quesadillas To Replace Spinach As Punchline

Jokes about contaminated spinach will now be replaced with jokes about contaminated quesadillas, as the New York Times front page reports that the origins of an E. Coli scare that descended upon some portions of New York and New Jersey last month has been traced to Taco Bell.

The outbreak sickened 39 area residents and was considered "the nation's most serious outbreak of E. coli toxins since mid-September," when the spinach situation occurred. It goes without saying, but I'll say it anyway (especially given the number of lawyers that happen to populate these two states): let the litigation begin.