[ RadSafe ] Outcry as border guards seize British 'dirty bomb' lorry heading for Iran

Jim Hardeman Jim_Hardeman at dnr.state.ga.us
Sun Jul 23 15:26:41 CDT 2006

Gerry --
I agree ... let's do the math ... each one of these devices has
(nominally) 10 mCi of Cs-137 and 50 mCi Am-241 ... so the Bulgarians
have now defined a "dirty bomb" as 1 Ci of Cs-137 and 5 Ci of Am-241.
Guess it depends on how much dose you want to deliver, or how much area
you want to crap up. Seems like a lot of effort to me ... to steal, or
otherwise obtain, 100 moisture-density gauges ... and then disassemble
them and prepare the "ingredients" ... all for a relatively ineffective
Just for comparison, the IAEA Category 3 sealed source limits are 2 Ci
for Am-241 and 3 Ci for Cs-137 ... and 10X these values (i.e. 20 Ci for
Am-241 and 30 Ci for Cs-137) for Category 2 limits ... which is (at
present) the lower limit of what will be tracked by NRC's National
Source Tracking System (NSTS).
As to how easily the radioactive materials can be removed ... I don't
know. I've seen these things burned, run over by dumptrucks and
bulldozers, and not once have we seen an accidental release of
radioactive materials. The sources are fairly robust ... it would take
some doing to successfully recover the few micrograms of radioactive
material from each of these devices.
Looks to me like Dr. Frank Barnaby doesn't get out much ... these
devices are among the most commonly used industrial radioactive
materials devices in the world. If these things are "dirty bombs" then
there are literally thousands of "dirty bombs" running around the US
every day ... and several being lost or stolen every month. 
My $0.02 worth for the day ...

>>> Gerry Blackwood <gpblackwood at yahoo.com> 7/23/2006 15:20:52 >>>
What I find interesting is where these gauges were heading for and the
route they were taking.... Nothing like driving from Kent to
Tehran........Though the Iranians have better access to isotopes than
what was in these gauges if they wanted to build a dirty bomb... 


Outcry as border guards seize British 'dirty bomb' lorry heading for
By JASON LEWIS, The Mail on Sunday 
               Border guards seized a British lorry on its way to make
a delivery to the Iranian military - after discovering it was packed
with radioactive material that could be used to build a dirty bomb. 
The lorry set off from Kent on its way to Tehran but was stopped by
officials at a checkpoint on Bulgaria's northernborder with Romania
after a scanner indicated radiation levels 200 times above normal. 
The lorry was impounded and the Bulgarian Nuclear Regulatory Agency
(NPA) was called out. 
On board they found ten lead-lined boxes addressed to the Iranian
Ministry of Defence. Inside each box was a soil-testing device,
containing highly dangerous quantities of radioactive caesium 137 and
The soil testers had been sent to Iran by a British firm with the
apparent export approval of the Department of Trade and Industry. 
Last night, the head of the Bulgarian NRA, Nikolai Todorov, said he was
shocked that devices containing so much nuclear material could be sold
so easily. 
He said: "The devices are highly radioactive - if you had another 90 of
them you would be able to make an effective dirty bomb." 
And a spokesman for the Bulgarian customs office, said: "The
documentation listed the shipment as destined for the Ministry of
Transport in Tehran, although the final delivery address was the Iranian
Ministry of Defence. 
"According to the documentation they are hand-held soil-testing devices
which were sent from a firm in the United Kingdom." 
A leading British expert last night said the radioactive material could
easily be removed and used to construct a dirty bomb. 
Dr Frank Barnaby from the Oxford Research Group, said: "You would need
a few of these devices to harvest sufficient material for a dirty bomb.
Americium-beryllium is an extremely effective element for the
construction of a dirty bomb as it has a very long half-life, but I
would be amazed to find it out on the street. 
"I don't know how you would come by it as it is mainly found in spent
reactor-fuel elements and is not at all easy to get hold of. I find it
very hard to believe it is so easily available in this device." 
Senior Labour MP Andrew MacKinlay called for the Government to tighten
up export controls to prevent the Iranian military getting its hands on
nuclear material. 
He said: "The Prime Minister has accused the Iranian Government of
sponsoring international terrorism, yet his officials are doing nothing
to prevent radioactive material which has an obvious dual use being sold
to their military." 
Little control 
The discovery will add to fears about the lack of control over the sale
of nuclear material to so-called 'rogue states' which the Government
claims sponsor international terrorism, particularly as it comes at a
time when Iran is ignoring international calls to halt its nuclear
The case has echoes of the arms-to-Iraq affair during which the DTI
approved exports of apparently innocent civilian equipment to Saddam
Hussein that was then used to build weapons. 
Mr MacKinlay added: "Our export controls are a mess.  
"The Iranians are resourceful and sophisticated and, just as we saw
with Saddam Hussein in the past, this is just the sort of method they
would use to get their hands on the equipment they need for their
supposedly banned weapons programmes." 
Andrew Maclean, a director of Kent-based Orient Transport Services,
which was paid by another unnamed British firm to transport the
radioactive devices to Iran, said the shipment was perfectly legal. 
He said: "We had a letter from the DTI confirming that no export
licence was needed to send these items to the Iranians. 
"We also alerted customs officials about the goods we were transporting
before they left the UK and the truck carried all the appropriate
warning symbols to alert officials and the emergency services of what it
was carrying." 
Last night a DTI spokesman confirmed: "Exporters do not need a licence
to transport this sort of material to Iran. It is not covered by our
export controls." 
In August last year there was a similar incident when a Turkish truck
carrying a ton of zirconium silicate supplied by a British firm was
stopped by Bulgarian customs at the Turkish border on its way to Tehran,
after travelling from Britain, through Germany and Romania, without
being stopped. 
Zirconium is used in nuclear reactors to stop fuel rods corroding and
can also be used as part of a nuclear warhead. The metal can be
extracted from zirconium silicate and its trade is usually tightly

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