Not less than three occasions in the last ten years, samples of highly-enriched uranium of the type used to make a nuclear explosive device have been smuggled into Moldova, a small landlocked country in Eastern Europe bordered by Romania to the west and Ukraine to the north, east and south, on their way to a potential customer.
Five current and former U.S. officials who have monitored nuclear smuggling are concerned because the uranium looks to have the same source – a restricted military installation in Russia.
Records filed in the Modovan Supreme Court detailed that the uranium was smuggled into the country in a bag by a cop through the capital city of Chişinău. But the bag was in fact a lead-lined cylinder, shaped like a thermos, to contain radiation from the fissile material.
From there it was acquired by the wife of a former Russian military officer, who handed it off to a friend while she went shopping.
The bag full or uranium was then recovered by a 57-year old lawyer named Teodor Chetrus, from a provincial town near the Ukrainian border. He brought it to a gathering with a man named Ruslan Andropov. Based on Moldovan law enforcement, earlier in the day the two men had frequented a local bank, where Chetrus verified that Andropov had deposited more than $330,000 as an initial payment for the uranium.
The uranium in the bag was intended to be the first of several deliveries totaling 10 kilograms (22 lbs), about a fifth of the uranium required to fuel a Hiroshima-sized nuclear explosion. But it is enough uranium to construct a more technically-advanced “implosion-style” nuclear explosive device.
Undiscovered to the smugglers, Andropov was cooperating with Moldovan law enforcement, who were tracking communications between those concerned, with assistance from the U.S. embassy in Chishinau. On June 27, 2011, they detained Chetrus on a sidewalk in front of the bank. He would at some point be sentenced to five years in prison.
His criminal arrest ended one of four endeavors in the past five years by Moldovan locals to smuggle hazardous nuclear materials into the West through Moldova.
U.S. Intelligence officials think that thieves inside of Russia somehow made off years ago with a full bomb’s worth of exceptionally enriched uranium.
But the government of Russian president Vladimir Putin has declined to supply any information on the stolen uranium, or even acknowledge that some of it is even missing.
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