July 2001

French Arrest 3 for Nuclear Trafficking

Reuters, 22 July 2001

[Posted 26/07/2001]

PARIS (Reuters) - French police have arrested three men on suspicion of trafficking nuclear material after seizing five grams of enriched uranium used to make nuclear weapons, the newspaper Journal du Dimanche said on Sunday.

Police and judicial sources declined to confirm the report, but a spokesman for the country's Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) said the matter was in the hands of the interior ministry.

A CEA physicist said separately this seemed to be the first time usable radioactive materials had been seized in France.

"As far as the CEA knows, this is the first time that radioactive materials have been discovered in France. Until now, one had only found radioactive waste,'' Philippe Bergeonneau told Reuters.

Journal du Dimanche said police arrested a French man and two Cameroonians earlier this week in Paris and seized five grams of enriched uranium 235, which was inside a glass bottle contained within a lead outer-casing.

"The amount may seem small, but it was presumably a sample aimed at luring a buyer interested in several kilograms,'' the newspaper said.

Not Enough for a Bomb

The newspaper said police had seized aeroplane tickets to eastern European countries and nuclear analysis notes written in Cyrillic script, presumably Russian, from an apartment belonging to one of the men.

Bergeonneau said 10 kilograms of uranium 235 would be needed to make a nuclear bomb but apart from its military uses, this kind of uranium was also used in research nuclear reactors.

He said closer analysis of the material found in Paris would enable scientists to establish its exact composition, but he said it was premature to say whether it would be possible to determine its origin.

Bergeonneau said several cases of nuclear trafficking had been discovered in other countries since the break up of the Soviet Union.

In January 2001, Greece found hundreds of highly radioactive metal plates, containing plutonium and americium, buried in a forest near the northern port of Thessaloniki.

Officials at the time said they thought the plates had been brought in from former Soviet republics or Bulgaria and buried there while the traffickers waited for a buyer.

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