Turkish police:Weapon-grade uranium seized

Sept. 28, 2002 at 12:01 PM
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ANKARA, Turkey, Sept. 28 (UPI) -- Turkish police seized about 15 kilograms (33 pounds) of weapons-grade uranium, valued at $5 million, according to Turkey's Anatolian news agency Saturday.

If further tests uphold the preliminary police findings, the quantity would be by far the largest yet captured from illegal hands anywhere in the world. The previous record was set in July 2001, when security forces in Georgia arrested several men trying to sell less than 2 kilograms (4 pounds) of weapons-grade -- also called enriched -- uranium to Turkish buyers. Smaller amounts have been captured on several other occasions in the region.

It is not yet clear whether the source of the seizure reported Saturday came from Georgia, but Anatolian described it as coming from an eastern European country. It also was unclear when the seizure took place.

The Anatolian report said two men were arrested on smuggling charges after authorities acted on a tip and stopped a taxicab in the southern province of Sanliurfa. The uranium was hidden under a seat.

While substantial, 15 kilograms alone of enriched uranium is not quite enough to make a "proper" nuclear bomb, according to U.S. government information. Twenty-five kilograms is considered the standard threshold to ignite such a device's searing force. Nuclear bombs also require at least least 8 kilograms of plutonium. However, the seized amount could likely work as a crude nuclear bomb, combined with conventional explosives to form a so-called "dirty bomb," or -- in the worst case -- blended with previously smuggled and as yet undiscovered amounts of enriched material to form an actual bomb.

Nuclear authorities have stressed that they have no evidence to date that any rogue nation yet has that capability.

However, earlier this week an intelligence dossier released by British Prime Minister Tony Blair asserted that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, while not yet in possession of nuclear weapons, has been trying to obtain enriched uranium via several African countries. South Africa, the only country on the African continent that has both uranium and the means to process it into weapons-grade enrichment, has vehemently denied any involvement.

The former Soviet Union, with its intensively developed civilian and military nuclear programs, has been a source of great concern for nuclear scientists since its collapse 1991. While peaceful, the dissolution was followed by economic and social upheaval as Russia and other former member states struggled to transform themselves into market economies.

A database set up earlier this year at Stanford University in the United States is trying to track the fate of lost or stolen nuclear material -- a situation that one Stanford researcher told the British Broadcasting Co. was "frightening."

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