A large haul of radioactive uranium, thought to be worth around nine million euros, has been confiscated by authorities in Moldova. The suspected smugglers include former police officers.
Uranium-238 can be used to make so-called "dirty bombs"
Police in Moldova have seized 1.8 kilograms of radioactive uranium, government officials said on Tuesday.
Tests in the United States confirmed the substance as Uranium-238. The haul, which was being stored at a garage in the capital Chisinau, was valued at nine million euros ($11 million).
Police have arrested three members of a suspected group of traffickers which includes former police officers. The suspects have previous convictions for possessing radioactive materials in Moldova, Russia and Romania, according to Interior Ministry spokesman Chiril Motpan.
"Seven members of the criminal group came under suspicion of police in the middle of June when they started to look for ways of selling the radioactive material," Motpan said.
Authorities believe the uranium was smuggled into Moldova, and are now awaiting the results of tests conducted in Germany to determine its country of origin.
Uranium-238 is the commonest of the three radioactive isotopes of uranium. It cannot itself unleash a chain reaction, but can be converted to create plutonium, a source for nuclear power and nuclear warheads.
The haul was kept under guard and in a special container in Chisinau. 620 rounds of ammunition, a grenade, a pistol and false documents were also found in the garage.
Moldova is one of Europe's poorest nations and includes the rebel territory of Transnistria. The former Soviet state is considered particularly vulnerable to smuggling.
Author: Thomas Sheldrick (AFP/Reuters)
Editor: Rob Turner