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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Germany Arrests 4th Plutonium Smuggler

German police announced Tuesday that they had confiscated a second sample of illicit weapons-grade plutonium within the space of a week, even as a top Russian security official accused the West of leading a smear campaign against its nuclear weapons industry.


"Western public opinion is trying to create the belief that Russia, with all its problems, is not in a position to maintain reliable controls on materials of this kind," Reuters quoted federal counterintelligence service spokesman Vladimir Tomarovsky as telling a news conference. "So far, we can definitely say this is propaganda."


But as Tomarovsky was making those charges, police in the north German city of Bremen said they had arrested a 34-year-old East German at the local train station last Friday and charged him with illegal possession of two grams of Plutonium-239, the Associated Press reported.


The seizure, the fourth in as many months, appeared to confirm the existence of an alarmingly active illicit trade in weapons-grade nuclear materials. German and other Western nuclear experts believe the deadly materials can only have come from Russia.


An agent involved in the Bremen case, interviewed on ARD television, said that the arrested man had offered to obtain 70 grams of plutonium but prosecutors pounced on him before the rest was brought forward, the agency said.


The television report quoted the unhappy agent as saying that 68 grams of plutonium were circulating in northern Germany.


He went on to say that former officials from the East German secret police, the Stasi, were serving as couriers for the sale of Russian radioactive material, the agency reported.


Last Saturday police in Munich seized more than 300 grams of weapons-grade plutonium from a Colombian courier flying out of Moscow. This was by far the biggest haul yet of the substance. The plutonium was 87 percent rich in an isotope used in nuclear weapons.


The seizure attracted top-level concern in the West. German Chancellor Helmut Kohl called it a "serious danger" and announced plans to send his top security aide Bernd Schmidbauer to Moscow later this week. But Russian officials have reacted coolly, saying that there is so far no proof that the plutonium originated in Russia. Vladimir Klimenko, chief aide to President Boris Yeltsin's security adviser Yury Baturin, told Itar-Tass on Tuesday that not a single case of plutonium theft in Russia had been proved since the breakup of the Soviet Union.


However a Western nuclear expert said Tuesday he was in no doubt where the plutonium originated from, declaring flatly, "It can only be Soviet material."


John Large, an independent British nuclear expert, said in an interview that he had been approached at a Russian nuclear plant and offered plutonium.


"It operates from the mafia on street-level up to the corrupt factory director in his office," Large said.He said the only likely sources for plutonium of this quality could be three or four Russian nuclear weapon plants, chiefly the ones at Chelyabinsk in the Urals and Tomsk and Krasnoyarsk in Siberia.


"You need very sophisticated chemical separation works to produce that level of plutonium," Large said. "In Europe those separation works are confined to Britain, France and Russia."