of Alleged Plutonium Smuggler Begins
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 17 July 2001
By Alfred Behr
Authorities Wonder What Motive Could Have Been in
Bizarre, Perhaps One-of-a-Kind Crime.
STUTTGART. A 47-year-old worker who six months ago
allegedly smuggled plutonium out of an unused nuclear reprocessing plant
in Karlsruhe was brought before a judge on Tuesday.
How the man, a locksmith working at the plant, was
able to bring a bottle of radioactive "nuclear soup" and radioactive
cloths out of the plant despite security controls has since become public
knowledge: According to officials, he passed several exit locks and
control monitors carrying his dangerous booty from the "pipe tunnel,"
a highly contaminated area of the plant; he then placed the stolen objects
next to the monitors and took them back into his possession, again unnoticed,
once he had passed through the locks.
On Tuesday, officials said he demonstrated how he
left the plant with the bottle and cloths in his pants pocket. His motive
remains unclear, but there is speculation that he wanted to use the
hazardous material to blackmail the plant.
The environment minister for the southwestern state
of Baden-Württemberg, Ulrich Müller of the Christian Democratic
Union, said on Tuesday it was possible to cause harm with the stolen
material, but that doing so would serve absolutely no useful purpose.
The alleged offender, who was charged on Tuesday for illegal possession
of a radioactive substance, had showed neither skill nor intelligence,
he said, which prompted members of Alliance 90_The Greens in the state
parliament to ask what would be possible if a presumably more skilled
and intelligent employee wanted to smuggle something out.
Mr. Müller said the man had not acted "logically,"
which was why the deed could not have been predicted, adding that there
had never been a known case of this kind either in Germany or abroad
before. Mr. Müller also said he did not believe the man's claim
that he only wanted to draw attention to the lack of safety precautions.
The former reprocessing plant does not contain weapons-grade
plutonium, but only radioactive plutonium dust and highly radioactive
liquids. Between 1971 and 1990, 208 tons of spent nuclear fuel from
nuclear power plants and test reactors were reprocessed there, resulting
in 80,000 liters (21,000 U.S. gallons) of fission product solution,
or "nuclear soup," containing 504 kilograms (1,110 pounds) of uranium
and 16.5 kilograms of plutonium dissolved in nitric acid. In September
1996, the Baden-Württemberg government decided not to send the
highly radioactive liquid waste in 30 Castor containers to be disposed
of in Belgium, but to vitrify it on site in Karlsruhe.
The yet-to-be-completed vitrification plant to melt
the nuclear waste to glass ingots will cost more than DM400 million
($175 million). The rehabilitation and demolition of the reprocessing
plant should be completed by 2009 at a total estimated cost of just
under DM3 billion. Merely monitoring the "zero operation" costs some
DM130 million each year.
The locksmith reportedly contaminated himself, his
girlfriend and her daughter. He was born in Portugal and prospered in
Germany when he married a baker's daughter and opened several bakery
stores, but he later divorced, lost his money and started working at
his brother's company, which is carrying out demolition work at the
plant. Last March, a routine annual test established excessive levels
of radioactivity in his urine. The plant was only informed of this on
June 20 and the test was repeated for control purposes.
Mr. Müller said the long period between the
first and second test was "not right."