[ RadSafe ] Moldovan authorities seize smuggled uranium

Brennan, Mike (DOH) Mike.Brennan at DOH.WA.GOV
Tue Aug 24 17:12:23 CDT 2010

You could do a lot more damage with $11,000,000 than you can with 4
pounds of yellowcake.  

-----Original Message-----
From: radsafe-bounces at health.phys.iit.edu
[mailto:radsafe-bounces at health.phys.iit.edu] On Behalf Of Perle, Sandy
Sent: Tuesday, August 24, 2010 2:10 PM
To: 'radsafe at health.phys.iit.edu'
Subject: [ RadSafe ] Moldovan authorities seize smuggled uranium

Moldovan authorities seize smuggled uranium
By the CNN Wire Staff
August 24, 2010 4:38 p.m. EDT

Officials arrested five people in connection with a raid in the city of
Chisinau, Moldova.

 *   NEW: Three people were arrested in connection with the smuggling
 *   Authorities discovered about 4 pounds of uranium 238
 *   Known as yellowcake, that type of uranium has to be enriched to
make a bomb

Moscow, Russia (CNN) -- Officials in Moldova seized 1.8 kilograms (about
4 pounds) of smuggled uranium and arrested three of seven suspects, an
interior ministry spokesman said Tuesday.

Tipped off in early July, authorities discovered the Uranium 238, known
as yellowcake, in a garage in the former Soviet republic's capital of
Chisinau on July 20, said Kirill Motspan, director of the ministry's
press office.

The smugglers were trying to traffic the uranium with an intent to sell
it for more than $11 million. Authorities are still trying to determine
the uranium's origin -- Moldova does not produce uranium -- and its
intended destination.

However, yellowcake -- a coarse, poisonous powder that gets its name for
its often yellow color -- cannot be used to make a nuclear bomb. It is
the most commonly occurring found form of uranium and is not a fissile
substance, meaning that it must be enriched in an "elaborate set-up"
before it can be used for nuclear weapons, said Xiachun He, a professor
of nuclear physics at Georgia State University in the United States. The
uranium 238 alone is not even potent enough to make an effective dirty
bomb, the physicist said, since the level of radiation would be too low
once scattered as dust. Motpan said it was his understanding that 1 kilo
of uranium costs $6.3 million on the black market and that is what the
smugglers were expecting to get.

"Apparently, you can't make anything serious out of this modest amount
of radioactive material," Motpan said. "But they were actively looking
for a customer."

Acting as buyers, undercover policemen acquired less than one gram of
the substance and sent it to the United States for analysis, which
confirmed that it was uranium 238, he said.

Motpan also said that along with the uranium, the Moldovan police also
discovered a cache with a Makarov pistol, 620 cartridges for a
Kalashnikov assault rifle, an F-1 hand grenade, car license plates,
Soviet passports, and other documents in the same garage.

Yellowcake became a frequently heard term just before the 2003 invasion
of Iraq. The United States and the United Kingdom asserted that Iraqi
dictator Saddam Hussein had been trying to procure yellowcake from Niger
to make weapons of mass destruction.

Then-President George W. Bush used that claim to bolster support for the
war though critics, including diplomat Joseph Wilson, who had published
an article about a CIA investigation, said Bush was exaggerating the
Iraqi threat.

Motpan said a German atomic center will perform an expert analysis of
the seized uranium to establish the enrichment percentage and the
country of origin. The radioactive material has been placed in a special
container and is under guard.

"We are expecting more information coming out of Russia, Romania and
some other countries that can shed light onto this case and those
suspects," he said.

Sander C. Perle
Mirion Technologies
Dosimetry Services Division
2652 McGaw Avenue
Irvine, CA 92614

+1 (949) 296-2306 (Office)
+1 (949) 296-1130 (Fax)

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