(June 24 1994) The police found by pure coincidence 60 grams of weapons grade plutonium-239 in a house search in the German town Tengen (near Stuttgart in southern Germany). This discovery shows again the extreme danger caused by the so-called "peaceful use" of nuclear energy.
(414.4105) WISE Amsterdam - Concerning discoveries of the German BND (the secret service), it seems that Germany becomes a hub for nuclear smuggle (see also WISE NC 408; in brief). Within the nuclear fuel cycle criminals and terrorists have various possibilities to get Pu or other radioactive materials: from NPPs by bribery, burglaries, extortion or from interim storages or reprocessing-plants.
At a raid in search of counterfeit money police officers of the Bundes-kriminalamt Baden-Württemberg (Provincial Criminal Investigation Agency) found on May 10 a lead container. The alarmed local fire brigade carried out measurements but could not detect any radiation. After this it took nearly three weeks until the "Landesanstalt für Umweltschutz" (Regional Institution for the Environment) based in Karlsruhe came to the conclusion that contents of the lead container was Pu-239.
Police initiated a preliminary inquiry against the apartment holder - a 52 year old business man - because of unauthorized dealings with nuclear material. The man was already prisoned after a suspicion of dealing with counterfeit money.
The German BKA (Federal Criminal Investigation Agency) originally believed that the material originated from a storage facility in Eastern Europe. But on June 3, the "Europäisches Institut für Transurane" (European Institute for Transurans) at the Nuclear Research Centre at Karlsruhe announced that the plutonium was used for the production of nuclear weapons. This was confirmed by the Minister for the Environment in the land of Baden-Württemberg Harald Schafer.
The sixty grams of plutonium powder consisted of ten percent nearly pure (99%) Pu-239. This plutonium is only used by the production of nuclear weapons. "Sixty grams of Pu expose an immense danger to the public", moaned Schafer and continued that this incident could not be taken serious enough. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) based in Vienna confirmed the highly explosive political issue: "A discovery of such an amount never turned up in our documents", according to IAEA spokesperson Hans-Friedrich Meyer.
On June 1, Minister Schafer was not willing to give further information on the composition of the remaining ninety percent of the Pu. Further detailed examinations continue. The amount of Pu is not sufficient to build a nuclear bomb. Under optimal circumstances one needs at least 500 to 600 grams of pure Pu 239.
In 1993 in FRG police investigated 241 cases connected with illegal smuggling of radioactive material. This was an increase of 50% compared with 1992. However, weapons grade Pu was not yet impounded. Sixty gram of high-enriched Pu is theoretically enough to kill 30 (!) million people.
According to the German Press Agency DPA on June 3, the Pu came to Germany from the Russian capital via Hungary and Switzerland.
- Die Tageszeitung (FRG), May 28, June 3 and 4, 1994
- Press release BUND, May 30, 1994
- BUND (Friends of the Earth Germany), Dunantstrasse 16, 79110 Freiburg, FRG
Information for journalists: same address
c/o Dr. Georg Loser, scientific coordinator of FoE Germany, tel.: + 49-761-885950