Two Nuclear Smuggling Rings Broken Up, 16 Arrested
BERLIN (AP) _ Police have broken up two rings trying to smuggle radioactive materials from the former Soviet Union into Western Europe, arresting 16 suspects, authorities said Tuesday.
It was the latest in a series of such smuggling attempts that have alarmed governments in Western Europe at the apparent failure of a campaign to help former Soviet republics secure their nuclear materials.
The arrests were made in southern Germany and Austria since last Wednesday in undercover operations that netted people of at least nine nationalities including an armed Belgian private detective, said Hermann Ziegenaus, head of the Bavarian state criminal police.
Bavarian Interior Minister Edmund Stoiber renewed a call on East European nations to stop the nuclear smuggling at its source.
As in previous arrests announced since August, police said the smuggled materials were dangerously radioactive but far from sizable enough to be used in nuclear weapons.
Ziegenaus told reporters in Munich that one 10-member ring was arrested with 383 metal discs containing plutonium - less than one gram (0.035 ounce) in all - and a gang with six members had a tiny amount of cesium-137.
A Polish man suffered slight radiation injuries from carrying the cesium- 137, Ziegenaus said. In August a smuggling attempt in Switzerland led to two men suffering radiation sickness, indicating the smugglers have little knowledge of the dangers of what they are transporting.
Prosecutors have charged the 10-member group with illegal transport of nuclear materials and severe endangering of the environment. Two members of the other group were held under the same charges in Germany; their four alleged accomplices were arrested in Vienna and no charges against them were disclosed in Germany.
The cesium and plutonium were from the former Soviet Union, police said.
Last year the United States, Germany, Japan and other countries banded together to fund research institutes in Moscow and Kiev to give nuclear scientists well-paid work so they wouldn’t be tempted to sell nuclear materials. Still, the black market still seems to be beckoning.
Poland has become a staging point for materials smuggled out of Ukraine and Belarus, and authorities there planned to distribute radiation detectors to border guards to try to stop the traffic.
There are concerns that nuclear weapons might be sold to rogue countries or terrorists. The U.S. Congress passed a law last year providing dlrs 500 million to help the former Soviet republics secure and dismantle nuclear weapons under arms-reduction agreements.