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Arrests after HEU theft Moscow

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

(June 24 1994) Russian counter-terrorism agents have arrested three men who were allegedly trying to sell 3 kilogram of highly enriched uranium (90% percent U-235) stolen from a factory outside Moscow, a spokesman for Russia's Federal Counterintelligence Service said on June 7.

(414.4104) WISE Amsterdam - The HEU dioxide is considered weapons-grade and could be used to produce nuclear weapons. The arrests occurred already in March, but the Counterintelligence Service formerly part of the old KGB secret police - only released details of the arrests on June 7.

Agency spokesman Valery Pachkov said the three suspects were Russians between the ages of 25 and 35, and included a butcher and a plumber. The uranium was stolen from an Atomic Energy Ministry enterprise near Moscow and stored in what counterintelligence agents said were hazardous conditions. Agents found nearly a pound (500 g) of uranium dioxide powder in an ordinary glass jar and a metal flask - containers which did not protect the uranium thieves from radiation emitted by the stolen materials.

It came to the attention of the Counterintelligence Service after it received reports that the men had contacted several companies in the St. Petersburg region, asking whether they would be interested in purchasing some uranium and hinting that it could be obtained through relatives. The service s counter-terrorism unit responded "very quickly" to the reports, Pachkov said. He said this was "a sign that Russia's controls over the illicit export of nuclear materials were ef-fective at preventing any uranium or plutonium from slipping out of the country". But added he couldn't vouch for the other ex-Soviet republics. "We can't answer for Kyrgyzstan and other independent countries, but for us it's never happened," and wiped his slate clean.

The Interfax news agency said the uranium could have been sold for $300 a gram, for a total value of just under $1 million. Criminal proceedings had been opened under Article 223 of the Russian penal code, which deals with the theft of radioactive material. If found guilty, the accused men face between three and 10 years in jail.

Source: Greenbase, June 7, 1994
Contact: Greenpeace Russia, POBox 60, 121002 Moscow, Russia. Tel: + 7095 293 3261