Where in London can one purchase plutonium? In Covent Garden, at the Helios Homeopathy shop.
Dr Fiona Barclay, a chemist at RGB Research in west London, made this discovery. Her company specialises in selling collections of the periodic table elements (with the exception of those elements that are illegal or are so very short-lived – a few seconds or less – that they invite frustration). Some elements are easy to purchase: carbon, sulphur, iron. For others, one can turn to eBay, where arsenic, uranium (in the form of uranium-tipped missiles), and other elements of ill repute are commonly on offer.
But plutonium proved hard to find … until Barclay turned to Google, which directed her to the Helios shop. She explains what happened next:
“I went to Covent Garden and went into the shop and said, ‘Please, may I have some plutonium.’ And the lady behind the counter said, ‘I shall fetch the chemist.’
“The chemist was duly fetched, and I said, ‘I’d really like a sample of plutonium.’ She asked, ‘And how strong would you like it, madam?’ …
So begins this week’s Improbable Research column in The Guardian.