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Smuggling weapons-grade material increases

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

(September 2, 1994) Germany has repeated its call for pan-European cooperation with Russia in a bid to stop what Bonn believes is an increasing illegal traffic in bomb-quality plutonium out of the former Soviet Union's nuclear weapons facilities.

(417.4133) WISE Amsterdam - A German man was arrested in Bremen (northern Germany) in the second week of August while attempting to hand over a 'sample' of alleged Russian plutonium to a German undercover policeman. It was the fourth seizure in four months of alleged weapons-grade material from Russia.

According to German officials, the arrested man allegedly offered to supply up to 70 grammes of weapons grade plutonium with a certificate to prove its authenticity from a Moscow scientific institute.
According to preliminary analysis, his two gramme 'sample' contained 0.05 milligrammes of mixed plutonium and americium, elements commonly generated in nuclear power plants.

German police searched several houses in Berlin and arrested several people who named Pakistan as a possible destination for the plutonium. This however is unlikely. Pakistan for the first time admitted late August that they have nuclear weapons and it is common knowledge that Pakistans' road to a nuclear capability is by high enriched uranium and not plutonium.

- The arrest in Bremen followed the arrest a week earlier of two Spaniards and a Colombian carrying some 300 grammes of plutonium on a Lufthansa flight from Moscow to Munich.
- German police also seized an 0.8 gramme sample of highly-enriched Uranium 235 - alleged to have come from a Russian nuclear power station or submarine - from five east European men and a German woman earlier beginning of August.
- In June, three Russians were arrested in St Petersburg after stealing seven pounds of enriched uranium from a Moscow factory. The three had simply hidden it in their gloves and walked out.
- And in May police found six grammes of weapons-grade plutonium 239 mixed in mercury in the home of a German businessman.

The seizures, and Germany's stated belief that the seized material comes from Russia, has set Moscow and Bonn at loggerheads. German officials insist the material can be traced to nuclear facilities in Russia or else-where in the former Soviet Union.

Russian officials accuse Germany and the west of running a propaganda campaign against them for political and commercial advantage and say all their nuclear material can be accounted for.

There are three weapons-grade nuclear materials producers in Russia: the civilian nuclear industry, which produces raw plutonium as waste; the armed forces, holding surplus plutonium in soon-to-be decommissioned warheads and submarines; and the secret plants that constructed the weapons in the first place. It is this last sector, say the international environmental group Greenpeace, that is the problem. They say the plutonium seized in Germany must be Russian and most likely taken from secret facilities where security is lax.

In a network of secret cities built to construct the Soviet Union's nuclear deterrent, formerly highly-paid engineers are being starved of pay and technical support by a government that now considers them redundant with the end of the Cold War.

The former Soviet Union's bomb-building programme - the so-called Medium Machine Building Ministry - had funds and staffing on a scale that made it virtually a state in its own right with 10 secret cities with a total population of more than 700,000 people.

Yuri Vishnevsky, head of the recently established atomic energy inspectorate, Gosatomnadzor, said earlier this year (in an interview with IPS) that Russia still had no law regulating the use of nuclear materials. He said his inspectors checked 5,500 of the 14,500 organizations and individuals licensed to work with radioactive sub-stances, and discovered over 20,000 safety violations.

Yet the maximum ruse Vishnevsky is able to levy under the existing laws is a mere 100 roubles - presently less than the cost of a single cigarette.


  • Die Tageszeitung (FRG) 19 & 24 August 1994
  • lIPS, 21 Augusts in cdp.disarm.nucfaci

Contact: Greenpeace Russia. PO Box 60, 121002 Moscow, Russia. Tel: +7 095 293 3261