Markets in everything

by on November 26, 2006 at 7:16 am in Economics | Permalink

Polonium, no license required, as far as I can tell this site is real.  Only $69, just click on "Add to Cart."

Here are the legitimate uses of polonium.  Here is a less than legitimate use.

Thanks to Natasha for the pointer; she pursued some leads from Russian web sites.

1 S November 26, 2006 at 9:47 am
2 Aric November 26, 2006 at 10:13 am

According to Wikipedia, a lethal dose of Po210 is about 525 microcuries. $69 at United Nuclear gets you .1 microcuries – meaning you’d need more than 5000 of these in your cart to make a single lethal dose.

The Wikipedia article points out that a particle of 6.8 * 10^-12 grams would produce about .03 microcuries – so this .1-uCi particle will weigh about 2.25 * 10^-11 grams, or about 20 trillionths of a gram. A good way to visualize it would be to imagine taking a single strand of your hair, and cutting the largest possible sphere out of it that you can. That sphere would weigh about the same as this sample of Po210.

3 Sarah November 26, 2006 at 11:15 am

Ah, but it’s great for the terrorism aspect. What could be scarier than sipping a lethal dose of radioactivity in your tea, all unsuspecting?

4 Tim Worstall November 26, 2006 at 1:36 pm

More here. The lethal dose would be about $500,000.

5 Constant November 26, 2006 at 5:17 pm

So – does that mean the assassination cost somebody half a million? If so, it seems the kind of vast sum that only a state would be likely to pay. Ergo – this was in fact a political murder committed by the Russian government. Not that there was any doubt, but this adds to the evidence.

Unless the polonium at the website is vastly “overpriced” in some sense.

6 J. Lilly November 26, 2006 at 7:47 pm

By the way: with a half-life of 138 days, that Polonium stuff loses value pretty quickly.

7 Jim Hu November 26, 2006 at 9:16 pm

I think it wouldn’t be transported in solid form. It’s volatile as a solid. However, it’s soluble in weak acids, based on the same Wikipedia article.

The website linked just made the CBS evening news!

8 Tim Worstall November 27, 2006 at 8:26 am

Re pricing at United Nuclear (sorry to join this thread so many times but my day job is dealing with weird and exotic metals) a very large part of the price is that they have a catalogue, run a website, overheads and all. This is very common (there are other companies, like Alfa Aesar) that a gramme, of a micro gramme of something costs a lot.

In my own field, scandium, a gramme can cost $80 for the metal. A kilo can be had for $2,000 or so. A tonne is valueless as simply no one has a use for that much of it.

9 superdestroye November 27, 2006 at 9:07 am

To demonstrate that I do not have a life, I would a 31 millicurie source, about 10 times the minimum lethal amount for $229 (US) at

The problem would be getting the polonium-21- off of the device and into solution.

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