Seven people suspected of attempting to traffic nearly 4 pounds of uranium 238 were apprehended in Moldova, BBC News reported today (see GSN, June 23).
The accused smugglers were said to be seeking close to $11.5 million for the material and were looking to unload it on the European underground market.
A nuclear analyst said the quantity of seized uranium 238 was “trivial” and could not be employed for producing a nuclear weapon.”However, any attempt to smuggle uranium is of concern,” the expert said.
Investigator Oleg Putintica told a local broadcaster the uranium could be of use “both in the civilian nuclear industry and for military purposes to produce weapons of mass destruction.”
The material’s place of origin and planned recipient are not known, Putintica said.
Uranium-238 is used both for nuclear energy production and, when enriched, in nuclear bombs.
The guarded stash of uranium was discovered in a in a garage in the Moldovan capital of Chisinau, Interior Ministry spokesman Chiril Motpan said (BBC News, Aug. 24).
Three of the accused traffickers were discovered while participating in smuggling activities, the Belarusian Telegraph Agency reported. Three members of the group have in the past been investigated for related offenses in Romania and Russia and two were one-time employees of the Moldovan Internal Affairs Ministry. One suspect was a former police officer.
The smuggling ring spent about a month in Moldova searching for an international buyer.
Authorities also discovered hand grenades, ammunition and handguns in the garage of the former Moldovan police officer when they seized the uranium. Samples of the material are to be subjected to nuclear forensics testing in Germany to reveal the material’s enrichment grade and place of origin (Andrey Gusin, Belarusian Telegraph Agency, Aug. 24).