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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

7 Arrested for Sale of Uranium-235

Police have arrested seven people who were trying to sell more than one kilogram of highly enriched, weapons-grade uranium, NTV reported Thursday.

The men were arrested in the town of Balashikha just east of Moscow, trying to sell a capsule with uranium-235 for $30,000, NTV said.

The suspects were charged with illegal handling of nuclear materials, it said.

If proven true, the seizure would be the first officially confirmed case of theft of weapons-grade material in Russia.

In the economic turmoil following the Soviet collapse, there have been regular seizures of nuclear materials stolen by people who tried to sell them for profit, but all involved low-active uranium or cesium unfit to manufacture nuclear weapons. Russian officials have repeatedly said that no weapons-grade nuclear materials have been stolen. The report said the suspects allegedly belonged to the Balashikha criminal gang.

Police initially arrested those trying to sell the material at a roadside cafe, and they led them to another suspect who kept the uranium in his house. The date of the arrest and other details were unclear.

A duty officer at the Balashikha police station told The Associated Press he was aware of the case, but gave no details, saying the Federal Security Service was handling the investigation. The officer asked not to be named.

A spokesman at the Interior Ministry in Moscow also referred questions about the case to the FSB. A duty officer at the FSB head office refused to comment.

The NTV report contained footage of a roadside cafe where several suspects were arrested and a local police headquarters. It didn't feature any officials who would confirm the arrest.

NTV also interviewed Nikolai Shingarev, a spokesman for the Nuclear Power Ministry, who said there are several plants in and around Moscow where such material could be obtained. Weapons-grade uranium is sometimes used in research nuclear reactors.

Alexander Koldobsky, a senior researcher at the Moscow Engineering and Physical Institute, told NTV that the quantity of uranium reportedly seized would be insufficient to make a nuclear weapon. Koldobsky voiced skepticism about the reported seizure, saying it looked more like a provocation than a real event.