Lowestoft link in Russian spy murder

A scientific laboratory in Lowestoft played a key role in tracing the radioactive material which poisoned the former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko, it emerged last night .

A scientific laboratory in Lowestoft played a key role in tracing the radioactive material which poisoned the former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko, it emerged last night .

Mr Litvinenko's death in London last November sparked a high profile investigation by the Health Protection Agency (HPA) amid fears that others were at risk from the deadly radioactive element, polonium 210.

And at the height of the political intrigue and public concern surrounding the case, the HPA turned to the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas) to analyse the samples.

Cefas' annual report, published yesterday, describes the “pivotal role” that the agency played over the last year in responding to national emergencies.

The report says: “We collaborated with the HPA in the radioanalysis of polonium 210 in urine samples from those who had been in contact with Litvinenko.

“Working in co-operation with other laboratories, our input supported a rapid and accurate assessment of cross-contamination of those who had come into contact with the polonium 210.”

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Urine samples were collected and sent to Cefas' laboratories on Pakefield Road because of the agency's specialist experience in radioactive testing.

Bill Camplin, head of ecosystem interaction, said: “We are one of only a couple of laboratories in the country who were able to do this laboratory work at the beginning of the incident.

“The HPA knew that Mr Litvinenko had been poisoned by polonium 210.

“What they were trying to work out was whether other people had become contaminated by looking after him at hospital or working in places where it was alleged he had been contaminated.”

The Cefas laboratories contain sensitive spectrometers - capable of detecting tiny concentrations of radioactivity - which were used in their studies of marine life near nuclear power stations.

The report also shows that Cefas scientists ran an emergency response model to predict the movements of oil and freight from the container ship MSC Napoli, which was grounded off Branscombe, Cornwall, on January 18.