Plutonium smuggler apprehended

Publish date: May 21, 1999

Written by: Igor Kudrik

Security of nuclear materials at issue in Plutonium run

Kyrgyz security service agents arrested an Uzbeki national trying to smuggle plutonium via a flight to the United Arab Emirates on May 14th, Itar-Tass reported.

The material, used in the detonation devices of nuclear bombs, was reportedly packed in a rubber container. The arrested man said he received the plutonium at the airport from a person he had never met and was told to take it to the UAE for a $16,000 reward. The origin of the plutonium has not been established.

IAEA said it took the smuggling incident seriously and was going to investigate it.

Russian officials have downplayed concerns over the security of nuclear materials, while the U.S. National Research Council, part of the U.S. National Academy of Science, has urged co-operation on secutity issues between the U.S. and the Russian Federation for at least another decade to help safeguard nuclear materials.

"Although joint efforts by Russia and the United States have strengthened at many sites, we believe that terrorist groups or rogue nations have more opportunity to gain access to Russian plutonium and highly enriched uranium than previously estimated," Richard Meserve, the council’s chairman, said in a statement reported by the Associated Press.

"The safety and protection of Russian nuclear materials meets and, in some ways, even exceeds international standards," Yuri Bespalko, spokesman for the Russian Atomic Energy Minister, told Itar-Tass.

Bespalko added that such assertions are "an attempt to deprive Russia of its nuclear power status."