That Moldovan Radioactive Uranium

We actually have a picture of how much it was:

Moldovan intelligence officials say they have seized an ‘imposing quantity’ of radioactive uranium from a criminal group and detained several people.
The Moldovan Intelligence and Security Service said the uranium was due to be sold for £154,000 but did not say how big the haul was.
In a statement, it said ‘a criminal group specializing in smuggling radioactive substances was uncovered’, adding that ‘members of the group were found to be Moldovan citizens’.

That picture:

uranium

Eyeballing it, I dunno. Half a kg? So you’ve only got to do that 50 more times and you too could have enough for a bomb. Assuming that it is HEU rather than LEU of course.

And I really do tend to think that you could do more damage in other ways for that sort of amount of money.

There was actually a big report a few years back about the radioactive smuggling stuff. I found it all most interesting myself for I have smuggled nuclear materials (that is, things that can be used in nuclear, not radioactive things. 40 tonnes of nuclear grade zirconium out of Russia and into being made into AlMag car wheels for boy racers was a particular favourite. My actual trade in radioactive things has all been entirely, even scrupulously, legal. Including police car outriders with sirens whooping and all the rest ). As far as I recall absolutely every buyer was the security services of one country or another. There just is no private market for this shit.

8 thoughts on “That Moldovan Radioactive Uranium”

  1. Why does it need the qualifier “radioactive”? It’d be a Nobel-worthy discovery if it wasn’t.

  2. Maybe the qualifier is needed to distinguish it from depleted uranium thereby making it absolutely clear that even though you can’t use it for armour-piercing shells it’s still dangerous.

  3. The one thing I don’t get about those pics is the fact that the Terribly Dangerous Uranium package may just as well be a bratwurst packed in aluminium foil.

    You’d have to be an unmitigated idiot to transport the stuff that way to begin with, even if it’s in and of itself not that dangerous. But slow neutrons are.. tricky customers.
    Not that you’d need a full containment vessel. A decent sized sigar box, lined with roofing lead and some padding to keep things in place would do, and can be whipped up in 10 minutes and some elbow grease.

    But the thing is so Dangerous the guy holding the radiation meter hasn’t even bothered to put on protective gear… And it’s in the open on a desk in a simple ziplock bag.
    It’s Moldavia, but if you’re told you’re having a lump of the stuff they use to run nuclear plants with, and potentially could be used to make mushroom clouds, no sane man would just put it on the desk with the Other Evidence.

    We’re either witnessing some extreme rednecking here, or they’ve gone and packed someone’s lunch to “have something for the pictures” .

  4. “Including police car outriders with sirens whooping and all the rest”

    I’ve always fancied that – sounds fun.

    A senior Big 4 partner tells the story of being in Baghdad post-Saddam to help with the new government finances. He was getting ferried around in troop carriers, wearing body armour, the works. Said it was the most enjoyable time he’s ever had and he found it difficult to stop smiling and giggling with excitement – beats any audit work he ever did.

  5. “As far as I recall absolutely every buyer was the security services of one country or another.”

    … and what did the Russians want that Polonium for, Tim? 🙂

    Personally, I can’t think of any reason why security services would want radioactive material, except perhaps for test and training purposes.

    Legitimate uses include making smoke alarms, medical sources, and physics laboratories. I’ve also seen them used in specialist types of glass, anti-static measures, geophysics instruments used in surveying and mining, gamma-ray imaging (like X-rays but more compact and portable), food preservation and agricultural product sterilisation (used at ports to stop pests being imported), the space industry as power sources, and as dyes and ceramic glazes. DU, of course, is used in armaments.

    “So you’ve only got to do that 50 more times and you too could have enough for a bomb. Assuming that it is HEU rather than LEU of course.”

    Assuming you’re after an actual nuclear explosion, rather than a conventional explosive ‘dirty bomb’ for spreading fear and uncertainty. I’d hazard a guess that Uranium shrapnel would raise some health concerns. It’s an alpha emitter, so needs intimate contact to be dangerous. (Alpha particles are stopped by skin, but particles in the lungs or buried in the flesh would be a long-term cancer risk.)

    “And I really do tend to think that you could do more damage in other ways for that sort of amount of money.”

    Undoubtedly. But remember the aim of terrorists is not damage, but publicity for their cause and raising public concern to put pressure on politicians. The public are just as ignorant about the risks of radioactivity (witness Fukushima) and so it doesn’t matter if the danger is an actual practical one. Just the news that they had Uranium achieves that aim.

  6. Bloke in Costa Rica

    Grikath: where are you going to get the slow neutrons from? Uranium emits neutrons either spontaneously or via cosmic ray-induced fission, and in both cases these are fast (couple of MeV) neutrons. I suppose you could moderate them with some low-Z stuff like paraffin, but it’s not clear why you’d want to. In any case, a kilo of U235 is only turning out a spontaneous fission neutron every three seconds or so, and U238 about ten a second. The only other thing it emits is α, and the aluminium foil will take care of that. In sub-kilo quantities, uranium just isn’t very dangerous unless you eat it. Maybe don’t walk around for a month with a lump of it in your pocket, but still.

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