Friday, 2 November 2007

News: The Litvinenko Case Points the Way For Dealing With Radiological Weapons

Source: AFP

The British Medical Journal (BMJ) in a new report has reported how the authorities should handle the threat of radiological attacks in the light of the murder of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko, poisoned by polonium 210.

Following established procedure the Journal said by being swift, clear and factual in telling the public about what had happened and about the risks from the highly radioactive element used in the killing, the British authorities were able to stem any panic or stigma

The article is due out next Saturday shows research from James Rubin of the Institute of Psychiatry who sampled ,000 phone interviews with Londoners and 86 interviews with Londoners who had been potentially exposed to the polonium. Of those interviewed, only 11.7 percent believed that their health had been at risk. Sixty-two percent said they believed they had been well informed.

In a commentary also carried by the BMJ, University of Alabama public health professor Steven Becker noted the results would have been different if people had perceived the incident as a terrorist attack rather than a targeted murder.

"In a large-scale terrorist attack involving radioactive materials -- a 'dirty bomb', for example-- levels of public concern could be dramatically higher," said Becker. "Indeed, in a terrorist incident involving radioactive materials, effective risk communication may be the most important way to reduce morbidity and mortality, tackle people's concerns, avoid the impact on behaviour, and maintain public trust and confidence,"

Litvinenko, a Russian exile with British citizenship, was killed after his tea was poisoned at a central London hotel on November 1 last year. He died three weeks later in hospital. The subsequent investigation has lead to theory of a Moscow backed killing, with the prime suspect being named as former KGB agent Andrei Lugovoi.

There is now a distinct cooling of relations between Britain and Russia, with a tip for tat diplomatic exchanges and an increase of flights by the Russian Airforce to test UK defences.

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