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Nuclear Safeguards Education Portal

Theft and Sale of Radiological Materials

Moldavian police examine radioactive Uranium-238 in the capital Chisinau on August 24, 2010. (Photo source: AFP/Getty Images)
Moldavian police examine radioactive Uranium-238 in the capital Chisinau on August 24, 2010. (Photo source: AFP/Getty Images) 

As mentioned before, theft of materials for sale to a third party is also a widely observed phenomenon.  After the breakup of the Soviet Union, security at nuclear facilities became lax due to declining resources available to maintain the previous nuclear security system.  A decrease in the effectiveness of security systems and poor economic conditions have led to an increase in illicit trafficking of nuclear materials originating from the former Soviet Union. 

Cases of Theft and Sale:

  • Lithuania 1992: A 7 meter long fuel assembly, weighing 280 kilograms, was stolen from the Ignalina NPP.  Both guards and employees at the facility were involved in the theft.  The rod was removed by tying it to the bottom of a personnel bus.  The rod contained about 111kg of low enriched uranium.
  • Ukraine 1992: A number of capsules of cesium were stolen from the Barme production facility but recovered by authorities several days later.
  • Russia 1992: Thieves stole a box of radioactive material and threatened to blow up the material if the fighting in Moldova did not stop.
  • France 1993: French police arrested three men after discovering 4 kg of Cs-133 in their car.
  • Lithuania 1993: Police seized about 4.4 tons of Be (beryllium), mixed with radioactive uranium and cesium, which was smuggled into the country by the Russian Mafia.  The Be was purchased from IPPE using a phony purchase order, moved by truck to Moscow, transported to Yekaterinburg before being flown to Lithuania.  The Russian mafia was to sell shipment for $2.7M.
  • Romania 1996: Two individuals were arrested for attempting to sell 82 kg of radioactive material including low enriched uranium.
  • United States 1996: In Georgia, two suspects stole several containers of highly radioactive instruments from a silicone factory.
  • United States 1998: In North Carolina, nineteen small tubes of cesium were stolen from a locked safe in Moses Cone Memorial Hospital.  Authorities believe whoever stole the cesium tubes may have been trained to handle the material.
  • Azerbaijan 1998: Authorities thwarted an attempt by 4 employees of the Sumgait Aluminum Factory to sell radioactive Cs-137 for $1.4M.
  • Lebanon 1999: On March 18, Lebanese security agents arrested two men for attempting to sell 6 kg of U to Syrian nationals.
  • Chechnya 1999: Unidentified thieves attempted to steal a container of radioactive materials from the Radon Special Combine chemical factory.  Half an hour after being exposed to the container, one of the suspects died, while the other collapsed.  Each had only held the container for a few minutes while trying to carry it out of the factory.
  • Russia 2001: Police in Moscow broke-up a radioactive deal and ceased about 200g of Cs-137 that was said to be worth $1.5M.
  • Russia 2001: 10g of Cs-137 was taken from a business that calibrates precision instruments and was to be sold for $10,000.
  • Thailand 2003: A 44-year-old elementary school principal was arrested in possession 1 gram of Cs-137 that he intended to sell to a militant Islamic terrorist group for $362,000.
  • Poland 2003: Police arrested six men after a sting operation in which they purchased 600g of Cs-137 from the men for 140,000 Euros.


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