View Full Version : Nuclear/Radioactive Material Smuggling

11-18-2005, 05:11 PM
Radioactive Material Lost At JFK (http://wcbstv.com/topstories/local_story_321211508.html)

You've all heard stories about airlines losing luggage, but how do you lose a 200-pound drum containing dangerous radioactive material?

"I'm still in awe I can't believe it happened," Phil Piccuirro, a plant safety specialist at the U.S. Postal facility in Jersey City, N.J., told CBS2.

It's a good thing Piccuirro works for the post office. And that he's not a terrorist.

Because what he found when he opened what was expected to be an empty air freight container could have wreaked havoc.

"It was prominently labeled," Piccuirro said. "It was labeled cesium 137 there was no mistaking what it was."

What it was, was a 20-gallon drum clearly labeled "radioactive" that had 200 pounds of lead encasing the cesium 137.

Dr. Edwin Lyman of the Union of Concerned Scientists explained that, "cesium 137 is a highly penetrating radioactive isotope, it can be used in medical and commercial applications but it could also be used for a dirty bomb."

Experts say the package contained enough cesium 137 to contaminate several city blocks, potentially causing cancer and radiation sickness.
This, just a couple of weeks after a good article that puts RDDs in context: 'Dirty Bomb' Tops Threat List, but May Need Suicide Technicians to Build (http://www.ds-osac.org/News/story.cfm?contentID=38040)

Then there is this excellent reference: Commercial Radiological Sources: Surveying the Security Risks (http://cns.miis.edu/pubs/opapers/op11/op11.pdf)

01-25-2007, 01:15 PM
From CBC.ca

Georgian sting led to seizure of bomb-grade uranium
Russia's refusal to co-operate in investigation of citizen shows gaps in regional security, Georgia's interior minister alleges
Last Updated: Wednesday, January 24, 2007 | 11:01 PM ET
The Associated Press

Authorities in the ex-Soviet republic of Georgia, aided by the CIA, set up a sting operation last summer that led to the arrest of a Russian man who tried to sell a small amount of nuclear-bomb grade uranium from a plastic bag in his jacket pocket, officials said.

The operation, which neither government has publicized, represents one of the most serious cases of smuggling of nuclear material in recent years, according to analysts and officials.

The arrest underscored concerns about the possibility of militants acquiring nuclear bomb-making material on the black market, although there was no suggestion that happened in this particular case.

More... (http://www.cbc.ca/world/story/2007/01/24/uranium-sting.html)

01-25-2007, 03:40 PM
Hello Marc,
Back in 96 or 97, the police visited a house in the sticks because the neighbors were complaining about the smell.

Well, the family's young boy 3 days prior had found a metal cylinder and after playing with it for a while, promptly threw it under his bed.

About 5 days went by, and the family was "microwaved".

The Peninsula of Paldiski, Estonia was the largest Russian nuclear sub base outside of the motherland. When I visited Paldiski in early 95 (that was when the russians finally gave the peninsula back to Estonia) with the US and Swedish dpeartments of Energy reps, they found so much "activity" that a cement box was made, all "activity" placed inside and dumped into the Baltic Sea for "half life" to happen.

No need for a police, just take a walk along the shores of Estonia !
regards, Stan

01-25-2007, 03:47 PM
Hi Stan,

Back in 2002 when I was working with some of the ex-Nortel people, I ran a across an ethnic Russian who had lived and worked in Lithuania as a nuclear engineer. She made similar comments about the lack of proper disposal and security at many of the old Soviet sites. Honestly, I'm amazed that more of this material hasn't made its way into unfriendly hands <wry grin>.


01-25-2007, 04:26 PM
Our Estonian DOE rep is about 65 and although he wants to retire, he feels there's no adequate replacement and stays on. His office is almost across the street from our bomb group.

Fortunately, we have an Andros F6A robot out of TN that permits via fiber optics, ADP-2000 and the Multi-ray detectors. We (actually HE) can stand off 300 feet and let the detectors tell the story.

If one of them beeps, we stand down and he dawns some freaky clothing.

Now that is spooky !

01-25-2007, 06:42 PM
-one news source I read said in affect there was no terrorism connection to this. Well of course not, smugglers of such 'hot' items are only interested in helping poor people develop their own little nuke site to cut back on the cost of electricity and save on the ol' heating bill.

01-25-2007, 07:56 PM
The smuggling issue is critical: Loose Nukes: Investigating the Threat of Nuclear Smuggling (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/nukes/)

Nuclear Smuggling, Rogue States and Terrorists (http://www.silkroadstudies.org/new/docs/CEF/Quarterly/May_2006/Lee.pdf)

...but so is actual ability to weaponize whatever is obtained:

Improvised Nuclear Devices and Nuclear Terrorism (http://www.wmdcommission.org/files/No2.pdf)

Commercial Radioactive Sources: Surveying the Security Risk (http://www.cns.miis.edu/pubs/opapers/op11/op11.pdf)

...and then, for good context on the bad guys: Aum Shinrikyo, Al Qaeda, and the Kinshasa Reactor: Implications of Three Case Studies for Combating Nuclear Terrorism (http://www.rand.org/pubs/documented_briefings/2005/RAND_DB458.pdf)

Finally, a look at potential consequences:

Considering the Effects of a Catastrophic Terrorist Attack (http://www.trb.org/safety/RAND-Aug-2006.pdf)

07-23-2007, 09:58 PM
Newsweek, 23 Jul 07: Anatomy of a Nuclear Sting (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/19916061/site/newsweek/page/0/)

Gregory Kutz and his colleagues wanted to order enough radioactive material to make a dirty bomb. So they set up bogus companies and applied for separate licenses from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the state of Maryland. They didn’t succeed with Maryland, but they got a license from the NRC in less than a month. Then Kutz and his associates doctored the license to increase the amount of radioactive material they could buy, and began placing orders for nuclear moisture-density machines, which contain Cesium-137 and Americium-241. Suppliers were only too happy to help. Fortunately, Kutz is head of forensic audits and special investigations for the Government Accountability Office....
....and here's the GAO report, dated 12 Jul 07: Nuclear Security: Actions Taken by NRC to Strengthen Its Licensing Process for Sealed Radioactive Sources Are Not Effective (http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d071038t.pdf)

11-28-2007, 09:03 PM
Someone seem to have been trying to sell 1Kg of 'Radioactive Material' for $1m, but the rest is very vague. Has anyone seen anything firmer?


11-29-2007, 02:20 PM
Guardian story is a bit more detailed. http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,,2218551,00.html

With Schengen border agreement in place now, the electronic surveilance and security is stronger. However, the human element is still a problem, especially on the Ukrainian side.

11-29-2007, 03:02 PM
The BBC is also say Uranium and giving the weight as 500g, but again no indication of purity, level of enrichment (beyond Low) or any indication of where it was going.


Global Scout
11-29-2007, 06:11 PM

The three men, who were arrested Wednesday in eastern Slovakia and Hungary, were trying to sell about a pound of uranium in powder form, said First Police Vice President Michal Kopcik.

He said the uranium had been stashed in unspecified containers, and that investigators determined it contained 98.6 percent uranium-235. Uranium is considered weapons-grade if it contains at least 85 percent uranium-235.

11-29-2007, 06:50 PM
Looks like this issue is getting tons of attention... (http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2007/11/29/europe/EU-GEN-Slovakia-Nuclear-Arrests-Q-A.php)

Because uranium emits a form of radiation that cannot penetrate skin, and is much less radioactive than the polonium used to poison former Russian security agent Alexander Litvinenko in London last year, it can be stored and transported with little or no safety measures. Putting it in a lead-lined container would make it difficult or impossible to detect even with the most advanced equipment.


Police said they have found enough material to make a radiological "dirty bomb," but experts say highly enriched uranium is an unlikely candidate for such a weapon. Dirty bombs can be made from much more easily available radioactive materials found in hospitals, industrial plants or agricultural facilities, and uranium is not very toxic when dispersed in the air.

"Only idiots and scam artists think of selling highly enriched uranium as part of a dirty bomb," said David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington, D.C. "The net effect of dispersing half a kilo of uranium — who cares? Uranium is not very radiotoxic. Each person would get so little it would have no effect."

01-11-2008, 08:17 PM
RFE/RL: Kyrgyzstan: Authorities Seize Radioactive Material Bound For Iran (http://www.rferl.org/featuresarticle/2008/01/460cd9d5-93ea-424a-a68a-316142bcf3e1.html)

On January 9, Kyrgyz officials announced that they had taken possession of a small load of a radioactive substance discovered aboard a train bound for Iran. The material has been placed in a special area in Kyrgyzstan, but questions are being raised about the nature and quantity of the substance, who was behind its transport, and how the train carrying it crossed three border checkpoints before being detected.....

....Kyrgyz officials are looking for answers, but their behavior has raised questions, too. Why, for example, did it take them nine days to announce the discovery of the material, which was found on December 31 when radiation detectors alerted Uzbek border guards? They promptly sent the train back to Kyrgyzstan.

The Kyrgyz National Security Service continues to decline comment on that and other questions, and Almabek Aitikeev, a departmental head in the Kyrgyz Emergency Situations Ministry, offered only generalities about the quantity of the material....

03-30-2008, 09:05 PM
On the morning of January 31, 2006, Oleg Vladimirovich Khintsagov, a slightly built, 49-year-old auto mechanic, got out of bed in the ramshackle house he shared with relatives in Nogir, a working-class-village-turned-suburb just a few miles inside Russia’s border with ex-Soviet Georgia. It was still early, the first light shimmering off the fresh snow atop the peaks of the nearby Caucasus Mountains.

For 15 years, Khintsagov had eked out a living, like so many Russians after the Soviet collapse, mostly as a small-time trader. Cheap Turkish chandeliers, dried fish, sausages—Khintsagov would peddle just about anything he could get his hands on, and the returns were usually meager. But now his luck looked about to change. In fact, if everything went according to plan, he would end the day very much richer. No truck would be needed to ferry today’s goods. The 100 grams of highly enriched uranium in his tattered leather coat was tucked into a plastic bag—the type a day laborer might use to wrap a sandwich.

Khintsagov headed out of Nogir toward the Russian-Georgian border in an old, white Niva four-wheel drive with three men from Georgia who had driven over to pick him up. One was Revaz Kurkumuli, a drug dealer. The other two had engaged in petty smuggling with Khint*sagov in the past—Henry Sud*jash*vili, who painted and peddled cheap reproductions of European masters, and Vazha Chikhashvili, a corrupt, low-ranking Georgian interior ministry official. Khint*sagov had bragged to his companions for months that what he had in his pocket was just a sample, and that he could get at least two kilograms of the grayish-green powder—not quite enough for a nuclear bomb, but, for a buyer with the right equipment and experience, a good start.


Bumped into this in The Atlantic the other day. I thought Russia had sorted out its loose nukes (or nuclear material) for the most part. Shows what I know.

11-23-2008, 04:28 AM
CNS, 10 Nov 08: Trafficking Networks for Chemical Weapons Precursors: Lessons from the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s (http://cns.miis.edu/opapers/pdfs/op13_tucker.pdf)

......Until recently, little open-source information was available about illicit trafficking networks for CW precursors. In 2005, however, the trial in the Netherlands of Frans van Anraat, a Dutch businessman who had served as a middleman for Iraq’s procurement of precursors for mustard gas and nerve agents during the Iran-Iraq War, led to the public release of court documents revealing new details about chemical trafficking operations. Additional insights were provided by the related case of Peter Walaschek, a German middleman who arranged shipments of CW precursors to Iran. Th is study reconstructs the two cases by drawing on information from a variety of sources, including indictments, oral arguments, and exhibits from the United States and the Netherlands; interviews with the key individuals involved in the U.S. and Dutch investigations; and contemporaneous media reports.

Although the Van Anraat and Walaschek cases are more than two decades old, the insights they provide are still relevant today because methods of illicit traffi cking have not changed fundamentally in the intervening period. In addition to providing a detailed historical narrative of the cases, this paper describes the current U.S. system of dual-use export controls, indicates how it has changed since the 1980s, and identifies continuing gaps and weaknesses. Th e paper concludes with some recommendations to prevent the future trafficking of CW precursors.....