Ukraine arrests 3 over nuclear material sale

Fri, 17 Apr 2009 13:08:12 GMT
Three Ukrainians, including an official, have been arrested over a deal involving the trade of nuclear material enough to make a 'dirty bomb.'

Valentyn Nalyvaichenko, Ukraine's Security Service chief announced that an assistant to the Ternopil regional governing body along with two accomplices were detained while trying to sell about four kilograms of the radioactive material plutonium 239.

Nalyvaichenko said that the group intended to sell the highly-enriched nuclear material for USD 10 million to a secret agent when the security forces raided their enclave.

Head of Ukraine's Security Service said that the radioactive substance was sufficient to make a 'dirty bomb' if it was passed on to a terrorist group, Russian media reported on Thursday.

A dirty bomb is an unconventional radiological weapon which disperses dangerous radioactive material through a conventional explosion.

The container is believed to be a soviet-era legacy as considerable amount of nuclear materials were stolen during security breaches in nuclear facilities maintenance following the disintegration of the former Soviet Republic.

Note: A version of this story below appeared in the New York Times a few days ago. In that story, a spokesperson for the Ukranian Security Service told the Times reporter that the radioactive material for sale is americium, and that although it can be used in a dirty bomb, it could not be used in a nuclear bomb.

According to Edwin Lyman, a physicist here at UCS, americium can indeed be used in a nuclear bomb.

Ed provided me with this passage from the National Nuclear Security Administration's Material Control and Accountability Manual, DOE M 470.4-6, 8-14-06, p. I-11:

"Departmental protection program strategies and graded safeguards thresholds for separated neptunium-237 and separated americium are to be identical to those for U-235. The category for these isotopes is determined using the U-235 side of Table I-4, Graded Safeguards."

Ed also pointed out that americium is considered an "alternative nuclear material" by the IAEA and has special reporting requirements, which nonetheless fall short of the safety requirements for plutonium and highly enriched uranium.

Elliott Negin
UCS Media Director