'There was nothing anyone working on the case could say at the time'

April 13, 2007

The death of Alexander Litvinenko unexpectedly threw a spotlight on prize-winning toxicologist Nick Priest.

Sometimes there is nothing like having international recognition as an expert in a particular field to fill an already hectic diary, Nick Priest, environmental toxicology professor at Middlesex University, has found in recent months.

All it takes is an ex-Soviet spy to be assassinated with a radioactive poison and suddenly the world media wants your views and advice on the subject. Then the next thing you know, you are attending a glittering ceremony at Nato headquarters in Brussels to receive a E10,000 (£6,800) prize in recognition of your research over the past decade.

It may all sound very glamorous, but the attention has come after more than 30 years of laboratory and fieldwork research.

It was Professor Priest's work with polonium while employed as a research scientist with the National Radiological Protection Board in the 1970s and 1980s that brought him into the media spotlight after the death of Alexander Litvinenko.

He said: "There was nothing much that anyone working directly on the case could say at the time, so they were happy that someone with my knowledge who no longer worked there [at the NRPB] was dealing with the press."

Radiation poisoning was again the theme when two weeks ago he was awarded the prestigious Nato Science Partnership Prize.

This was presented to him in recognition of his research into radiation hazards associated with the nuclear test sites of Kazakhstan. Surveying an area two-thirds the size of Belgium, he discovered that 95 per cent of the land was still fit for human habitation.

Although the project was humanitarian in its aims, Professor Priest admitted that the possibility of acquiring information that might be of interest to terrorists made it necessary for him to tread carefully.

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