NBC Weapons: Russian Bomb Material on the Market

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NUCLEAR, BIOLOGICAL AND CHEMICAL WEAPONS

January 28, 2007: Authorities in Georgia, the small Caucasus country on Russias southern border, recently announced that they had arrested a man a year ago who was in possession of, and trying to sell, weapons grade enriched uranium. The seller was a Russian from southern Russia, and he was grabbed in a sting operation. The seller was led to believe he was dealing with Islamic extremists. The amount seized was a "sample" of 3.5 ounces of 90 percent enriched (fissile) uranium. That means that 90 percent of the material was capable of causing a nuclear reaction (slow, for nuclear power, or fast, for a nuclear explosion). Natural uranium is only about one percent fissile material. It is enriched to about 40 percent to be used in a nuclear power plant, and 85 percent for nuclear weapons. The seller said he had access to about five pounds of the weapons grade uranium. That's not enough for a nuclear bomb (which requires about 40 pounds), but could be used in a dirty bomb. The United States got control of the sellers uranium and is analyzing it. The seller was offered $4.5 million per pound. No more information was released on who else was involved in trying to sell this stuff, or where the nuclear material came from. The seller apparently never admitted who he was working with.

The U.S. has provided Russia with billions of dollars to help secure their vast supplies of fissile material. It's possible to do a chemical analysis of the Georgian uranium to find out where it was produced. There are only four Russian plants that make the stuff. But after the weapons grade material is produced, it is then distributed to several dozen other locations. The search for the source of this nuclear material is still underway, but the Russians have not been very cooperative. Russia says the entire incident is an attempt by the Georgians to embarrass Russia. In 2003 there was a similar case of someone in Georgia getting caught trying to peddle weapons grade material. That man was tried in secret and sentenced to 8.5 years in prison. There have been several other cases in Eastern Europe. Noting that all these incidents resulted in the sellers going to jail, the Russians believe that any Islamic terrorists seeking nuclear material would be better off looking for it in Pakistan, where bribery and corruption are more acceptable.

 


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