Radioactive traces found at 12 sites in Britain - - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

11/30/06-LONDON, England

Radioactive traces found at 12 sites in Britain

 More aircraft are being investigated for possible radiation contamination following the death of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko, British Home Secretary John Reid said Thursday.

British Airways earlier said two of its Boeing 767s at London's Heathrow Airport tested positive and a third was grounded in Moscow awaiting examination.

Reid told the House of Commons that a fourth aircraft, operated by the private Russian airline Transaero, arrived at London's Heathrow airport early Thursday morning.

He also said a fifth plane, also from a Russian carrier, was of interest to authorities, but he did not elaborate.

"There may be other airplanes of which we don't at this stage know," Reid said.

A Transaero airline official said later that no toxic substance was found on any company planes being investigated in the poisoned spy investigation.

So far 18 people who may have been exposed to polonium-210 have been referred to specialist clinics, but all urine tests so far have been negative, Reid said.

He said the UK Health Protection Agency expected to clear one of the three British Airways aircraft which operate the London-Moscow route -- which were identified last night as having possible radioactive contamination. Tests continue on the other two, he said.

Reid said "around 24 venues" have been or are being monitored and that experts had confirmed traces of contamination at "around 12 of these venues."

The two planes identified Wednesday -- along with a third that was grounded in Moscow but had yet to be tested -- were on the London-Moscow route, but also made stops in Barcelona, Frankfurt and Athens over a period of three weeks. Thousands of passengers aboard 221 flights have been asked to report any symptoms of radiation poisoning.

It was not immediately clear whether the traces could have come from passengers who may have come into contact with Litvinenko or whether a radioactive substance could have been smuggled on board. Authorities refused to specify whether the substance found was polonium-210, the rare radioactive element that was found in Litvinenko's body after his death Nov. 23.

Around 33,000 passengers and 3,000 crew and airport personnel had contact with the 221 flights on the three planes, said airline spokeswoman Kate Gay. She said the government contacted the airline but would not say what aroused its suspicions.

Litvinenko had said before he died a week ago that a group of Russian contacts who met him on the day he fell ill had traveled to London from Moscow.

A former colonel with Russia's Federal Security Service, Litvinenko had been a fierce critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin before his death.

After the discovery of high doses of polonium-210 in his body, Britain's Health Protection Agency began a screening program for people who visited the same venues as Litvinenko on Nov. 1. Traces of radiation have been found at six sites visited by the ex-spy.

Two planes at London's Heathrow Airport tested positive for traces of radiation. The third plane has been grounded in Moscow, the airline said.

The airline published a list of the flights affected on its Web site and told customers on these flights to contact a special help-line set up by the Health Ministry. (Flight list)

In a deathbed accusation, Litvinenko blamed Putin for his poisoning -- a charge Putin strongly denied.

Earlier on Wednesday, Italian security expert Mario Scaramella -- one of the last people to see Litvinenko before he fell ill -- said that tests cleared him of radioactive contamination.

Scaramella came from Rome to meet with Litvinenko at a sushi bar in London on Nov. 1 -- the day the former intelligence agent first reported the symptoms that ultimately led to his death at a central London hospital.

"I am not contaminated and have not contaminated anybody else," Scaramella told The Associated Press by telephone.

Scaramella, who returned to London to undergo tests and talk with the police on Tuesday, said he is in security protection and refused to say where he was.

More than three dozen staff at the two hospitals that treated Litvinenko will be tested for contamination, the Health Protection Agency said.

A coroner will perform an autopsy on Litvinenko on Friday, "subject to appropriate precautions," in a bid to pin down the cause and circumstances of the death, said the local authority responsible, Camden Council.

Doctors had sought expert advice on whether Litvinenko's radioactive body posed a threat to those performing the post-mortem.

An inquest was opened and adjourned at St Pancras Coroner's Court in north London Thursday to allow detectives to carry out further inquiries into his apparent poisoning.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Powered by Frankly