NBC Weapons: The Plutonium Scam



April 27, 2009: Ukrainian police arrested three men trying to sell eight pounds of plutonium, for $10 million. It turned out that they did not have plutonium, but the less radioactive (and not suitable for nuclear weapons) Americium (which could be used for a dirty bomb). The three arrested (a politician and two businessmen from Western Ukraine) had obtained the radioactive material (which was originally produced inside Russia) from someone outside Ukraine.

This incident is typical of dozens that have gone down since the end of the Cold War in 1991. Most of the nuclear material being peddled is not weapons grade. But since 1993, there have been over two dozen instances of smugglers caught with weapons grade uranium or plutonium.

Thefts of non-weapons grade material were reported in many countries around the world since the end of the Cold War. What's amazing is that Islamic terrorists have not yet obtained any of this stuff and used it to set off a "dirty bomb" (explosives surrounded by radioactive material, that makes radioactive the blast area).

Since the end of the Cold War, and the dismantling of over 20,000 nuclear weapons, there is over three tons of additional nuclear fuel sitting around. The stuff cannot be destroyed and remains radioactive for thousands of years. Several terrorist organizations and nations are known to be in the market for this weapons grade nuclear material, and don't care what the source is. Criminal organizations are active in trying to develop the trade. Only an enormous amount of police and intelligence work prevents a more active illegal trade in nuclear material.

But there is a hundred times more, less radioactive, material around. This stuff is used in hospitals and for some manufacturing or food processing work. This is what can be used for dirty bombs. There is a black market for this material as well, but no terrorists have, so far, gotten some and used it.




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