Polonium is a naturally occurring element (Polonium-209) that belongs to the group of elements that emit alpha-particles, which are nothing more than fast moving Helium nuclei. The “209” designator refers to its atomic weight (the total number of protons and neutrons in its nucleus).
Polonium-209 occurs naturally in pitchblende, the ore from which Uranium is extracted. Marie Sklodowska Curie first discovered it in 1898 when she determined that pitchblende before the removal of Uranium was more radioactive than the Uranium she removed, indicating that some other substance in pitchblende was more radioactive than Uranium. She extracted this substance and named it Polonium (after her native Poland).
To put this in perspective, a ton of pitchblende contains about 100 μg (micrograms or 0.0001 grams) of Polonium.
Obviously, this is not a practical way to produce Polonium. It turns out that you can bombard Bismuth-209 with neutrons, which causes it to transmute into Bismuth-210 with a half-life of 5 days, which spontaneously decays into Polonium-210 (which means that half of it becomes Polonium-210 in 5 days, and half of the remaining Bismuth-210 becomes Polonium-210 in another 5 days, and so on). By this method, anyone with a properly configured nuclear reactor can produce Polonium-210 in relatively “large” amounts.
Why do this?
Because a single gram Polonium-210 produces about 140 watts of heat (in the form of alpha particles), which makes it superbly suited for space vehicle electrical power supplies, with one big caveat – Polonium-210 has a half-life of about 138 days, so roughly every four and a half months, one half of this exotic fuel has converted to ordinary Lead. Polonium-210 produces about five times the energy of Radium, the other material frequently used to power the electrical systems of remote spacecraft, but Radium has a half-life of about 1,600 years, so it is much better suited for long-range space journeys. Radium decays into Radon gas, which normally dissipates.
So, why is Polonium-210 (or 209 for that matter) poisonous? It isn’t!
But it is dangerous when ingested because of its intense alpha-particle emissions. Alpha-particles can cause serious damage inside the human body. (For a detailed discussion of this, see this extract from my book, The Chicken Little Agenda – Debunking Experts’ Lies.) Because Polonium-210 produces such large amounts of alpha-particles, even a very small amount of this substance can cause serious damage, such as what we observed in Alexander Litvinenko. The damage was caused by alpha-particle bombardment of vital internal organs from the ingested Polonium-210.
So, it wasn’t really poisoning in the traditional sense, but rather a toxic dose of alpha-particle radiation administered through ingestion of Polonium-210.