NBC Weapons: April 4, 2004

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In Central Asia, Tajikistan police reported that, on March 15th, they arrested an Uzbekistan man in possession of a lead container holding three grams (about a tenth of an ounce) of plutonium. It was not weapons grade material (for a nuclear weapon), but rather the kind of stuff used for scientific purposes. However, this small amount of plutonium would be sufficient to make a "dirty" (radioactive) bomb. The container the material was carried in was of Russian or Kazakh origin. While the Central Asian states contain large amounts of low grade nuclear waste (from Cold War era Russian nuclear facilities), the high grade stuff is supposed to be gone or under guard. The Uzbek man was stopped and searched because police suspected he was involved in drug smuggling (which is a major problem in Tajikistan.) The man admitted that he hoped to sell the plutonium in Afghanistan or Pakistan for up to $21,000. Other details of the interrogation, such as exactly where the man got the plutonium, were not released. Since the Cold War ended in 1991, at least a dozen people have been caught smuggling small quantities of highly radioactive material in eastern Europe and Central Asia. It stands to reason that some of the smugglers have not been caught, and someone has highly radioactive material that they should not have. 

 


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