Russian security recovers 22 pounds of stolen uranium

August 25, 1994|By Los Angeles Times

MOSCOW -- Russian security officials, adding weight to promises that they would work harder to stop nuclear smuggling, announced yesterday that they had recovered more than 22 pounds of uranium stolen from a closed nuclear center.

The uranium-238 was not weapons-grade, and Atomic Energy Ministry spokesman Georgy Kaurov said the material was so harmless that it could best be used as a weight for a fishing lure or "to make presses for buckets of sauerkraut."

But in the wake of German accusations that plutonium recently seized in the Munich airport originated in Russia, the uranium case served as concrete reassurance that Moscow would try harder to keep its nuclear stocks under control.

The actual origin of the Munich plutonium has not been established, but German officials suspect that it came from Russia -- it arrived on a Lufthansa flight from Moscow.

It is unclear whether there is actually a market for purloined uranium and plutonium. But the latest Russian theft, solved by police in the closed nuclear city called Arzamas-16, showed the supply, or at least the will to provide it, is abundant.

"They thought they could sell it for millions of dollars and make a fortune out of it. They didn't know what they were doing," Mr. Kaurov said.

The uranium-238 stolen in Arzamas-16 was found Sunday, the Federal Counter-Intelligence Service reported yesterday. It said that the uranium was only good for industrial use, not for bomb-building, and would normally cost about $50 a pound if bought legally.

The uranium had been reported missing earlier in Arzamas-16 -- a high-security center of nuclear science -- and police arrested two unemployed men on suspicion that they stole the uranium. Further details of the case were not immediately released.

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