[ RadSafe ] Clueless smugglers find 'gold' is uranium

Dawson, Fred Mr Fred.Dawson199 at mod.uk
Tue Sep 9 02:10:37 CDT 2008

Times reports that  clueless smugglers find 'gold' is uranium



Three Chinese men have learnt the hard way that all that glitters is not
gold. Indeed, in some cases it is depleted uranium. 

A court in the far west spared the trio from lengthy jail terms,
determining that the men had been greedy when they smuggled the ball of
shiny metal into China from neighbouring Kyrgyzstan but had acted out of
ignorance and not deliberately. 

It was the first reported case of smuggling of such a banned material
into China, state media said. 

The scrap merchants, two brothers and a friend, found the lump of
low-radiation uranium metal in a yard in Bishkek last year. Attracted by
its shiny surface and its "gold sparkle", they haggled the dealer down
to a price of $US2,000 for what both sides regarded as a treasure - but
neither could identify. 

They smuggled their prize across the border, evading customs checks and
hid the metal in the home of the father-in-law of one of the men in the
westernmost Xinjiang region. 

A report on the local government website
(http://www.chinanews.com.cn/sh/news/2008/09-08/1375022.shtml) said:
"They were surprised that at night when the lights went out the treasure
sparkled and glittered, and Mr Wang chipped a piece from it and kept it
beside his bed - sometimes playing with it." 

Twice as dense as lead, depleted uranium is the substance left after the
most highly radioactive parts are extracted. It is used in
armour-piercing ammunition. 

Eager to profit from their investment but ignorant of how to price their
find, the men decided to take a chip thousands of miles to Beijing to
ask scientists at prestigious Tsinghua University to identify their
treasure. Cutting off a chunk of the 274 kilogram (602-pound) metal was
no easy task and the men broke several dozen saws before they succeeded
in slicing off a piece. "To prevent the sample being lost or stolen on
the way, Mr Wang used tape to stick the unidentified treasure to his
body, and it never left him night or day." 

Contact with the skin is usually not harmful, but the material can
damage kidneys, lungs and other organs if it enters the body. 

But the trio's hopes of instant riches evaporated once the experts had
taken a look at the lump and swiftly determined that it was a
radioactive material. They reported the matter to the police, who
detained the men on suspicion of smuggling. 

The case presented a conundrum to China's judicial authorities: the law
states that only those who deliberately smuggle nuclear materials may be
subject to punishment. It was clear that the three men were entirely
clueless about the true nature of the "treasure" they had brought into
China. Prosecutors decided they had no case and set them free. 

So far the men have shown no signs of physical abnormalities, state
media said. 


Fred Dawson  CRadP MSRP

More information about the RadSafe mailing list