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BA planes, passengers deemed safe from radiation

Story Highlights

NEW: All three British Airways jetliners cleared to return to service
NEW: 33,000 customers, 3,000 crew members not considered at risk
• Pathologists protect themselves during poisoned spy's autopsy
• Alexander Litvinenko's widow tests positive for polonium-210
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- Three British Airways planes, grounded while authorities examined them for traces of radiation, have been cleared to return to service, officials with Britain's Health Protection Agency said Saturday.

Alexander Litvinenko, the former KGB spy who was poisoned with radioactive polonium-210, had flown aboard the planes. Health officials said none of the estimated 33,000 passengers and 3,000 crew members aboard the 221 trips flown by those jets since October 25 were believed to be a risk.

As the inquiry into Litvinenko's death continued, pathologists took extreme precautions Friday performing his autopsy, the coroner's office reported.

Because of the dangers posed by the isotope, radioactivity levels were being monitored and those involved in the autopsy at Royal London Hospital were wearing protective clothing. (Watch how polonium-210 kills Video)

At the request of New Scotland Yard, the FBI was providing technical assistance, said Richard Kolko, FBI special agent.

"This is common, as we often receive requests to assist our international partners," he said.

Doctors completed the autopsy, but results won't be known until the criminal inquiry is complete.

The former KGB spy, 43, died November 23, three weeks after claiming he had been poisoned. High doses of polonium were found in his body, and pathologists were trying to determine how the poison was ingested.

The autopsy was attended by three pathologists -- one appointed by the British government; another preparing a report for defense attorneys, in case the death results in murder charges; and the third representing Litvinenko's family, said the office of coroner Dr. Andrew Reid.

Last week, British officials confirmed that traces of radioactive material were found at Litvinenko's home and places where he ate and met others just before becoming sick.

Before he died, Litvinenko -- a harsh critic of the Russian government -- accused the Kremlin of poisoning him. Russian officials have denied the charge.

British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Friday in Jordan and asked for the Kremlin's cooperation in its investigation of the poisoning, said Paul Knott, a spokesman for the British Embassy in Moscow.

The Russian foreign minister assured her that Russia is ready to help, said the diplomat. A spokesman for the Russian president had previously told CNN that Russia would cooperate in the investigation.

A family source on Friday said Litvinenko's widow had tested positive for the isotope, though in levels thought too small to make her sick.

"The levels are not significant enough to result in any illness in the short term, and the results are reassuring in that any increased risk in the long term is likely to be very small," Britain's Health Protection Agency said in a written statement.

The agency has been testing urine samples from people who were in close contact with Litvinenko after he became ill on November 1.

On Thursday, British Home Secretary John Reid said investigators had found traces of a radioactive material in 12 of 24 sites throughout London.

The risk to public health is extremely low because polonium-210 must be ingested to be dangerous, Reid said. (Watch to see if you should worry about polonium-210 poisoning Video)

Late Friday, the Associated Press reported a hotel in rural southeastern England had been evacuated as police and health workers carried out tests for polonium-210.

Also Friday, the health agency said a "significant quantity" of the radioactive substance ingested by Litvinenko before his death has been found in a person who had "very close contact" with him.

The HPA did not identify the person, but Italian Sen. Paolo Guzzanti confirmed that it was Italian security expert Mario Scaramella, who was one of the last people to meet with Litvinenko before he was hospitalized.

Scaramella tested positive for polonium-210, according to media reports, making him the first person to do so since Litvinenko's death.

Scaramella told The Associated Press Wednesday doctors had originally cleared him after tests. It is not known what prompted the new diagnosis, and Scaramella could not be reached for comment.

Scaramella told Reuters last month he met with Litvinenko at the Itsu sushi bar November 1 to warn him that he had seen materials suggesting both men were on a hit list, and needed to take precautions.

Gaidar probe

Meanwhile, Irish police announced they were launching an investigation into the possible poisoning of Yegor Gaidar, architect of Russia's market reforms. (Full story)

Gaidar, 50, became violently ill at a conference in Ireland and was rushed to a hospital there, but was said to be improving in a Moscow hospital.

Another attendee at the conference said Friday that Gaidar was ill before he arrived in Ireland. (Full story)


long.litvinenko.cnn.jpg

Former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko lies in bed in a London hospital shortly before his death.

British Airways Helpline

For more information about the flights, British Airways has established these phone lines:
Inside the UK: 0845 6040171
Outside the UK: 44191 211 3690
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