Ex-USSR awash in radioactive 'dirty bomb' substances

The seizure this month of two kilograms of uranium in Moldova, an impoverished ex-Soviet nation bordering the EU member Romania, is a stark reminder of just how available and poorly guarded nuclear materials can be, analysts said.

Moldovan police said this week they had seized a container with 1.8 kilograms of highly-radioactive Uranium-238 and arrested a group of suspected traffickers who had sought to sell it for nine million euros (USD 11 million).

The United States has said it provided technical assistance to Moldova in the case, which the US State Department described as a "serious smuggling attempt".

"Hundreds of thousands of tonnes of uranium lie in storage at industrial sites, one can take bagfuls of them," independent Russian military expert Pavel Felgenhauer told AFP.
"There are people who try to sell them at a high price and most often they fall into the hands of security services," he said.

The SBU security service in Ukraine, site of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster, have recently reported three cases of seizing radioactive materials.

Nine people were arrested in March as they tried to sell 2.5 kilograms of uranium 235 and 238 and strontium in the eastern Donetsk and Lugansk regions, their radioactivity levels 100 times higher than acceptable norms.

A container "with radioactive materials" was seized in December 2009 in the western region of Lviv, while in April that year, three Ukrainians were arrested in the nearby Ternopil region with four kilograms of plutonium which could be used to make a dirty bomb.

The plutonium container's radiation levels were 250 times higher than the norm, officials said.

In 2006, a suspected Russian trafficker was busted in Georgia as he attempted to sell "100 grams of 90-per cent-enriched uranium" to a Georgian policeman who passed himself off as a member of a radical Islamic group.

The case drew concern from the International Atomic Energy Agency.
"The entire territory of the former Soviet Union is awash in radioactive material which was used in Soviet times for some 30 various ministries and services, in medicine or agriculture," independent Russian military expert Alexander Golts said.

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