Alarm over Russia's 'nuclear bazaar'

GERMANY said yesterday that the 300 grammes of weapons-grade plutonium seized by police in Munich last week was only part of a much larger promised consignment from Russia with a total value of more than pounds 160m.

The atomic-energy ministry in Moscow denied knowledge of thefts from nuclear installations, and complained that the accusations were 'perhaps a campaign of provocation'.

But Germany insists that Moscow must face up to the problems on its doorstep. Gunther Beckstein, Bavarian interior minister, said it was certain that the material came from Russia. Bernd Schmidbauer, the German minister with special responsibility for security and intelligence matters, will go to Moscow in the next few days for urgent talks on the danger of smuggled nuclear materials from the east.

Mr Schmidbauer said that potential customers 'have apparently not been successful in getting possession of these substances'. He told the Hamburger Abendblatt: 'There is evidence of supply, but not of demand.' But some German officials have continued to hint that Libya, Iraq or Iran might be interested customers.

Mr Schmidbauer, if only for diplomatic reasons, insisted that Moscow has been co-operating with Bonn. But investigators say they have been stonewalled. Mr Beckstein has complained of 'clumsy diversionary tactics'. An investigator told Focus magazine: 'The Russians have not helped.'

The International Atomic Energy Agency said yesterday that it was 'alarmed' at the high quality of radioactive materials being smuggled out of the former Soviet Union. Last week's seizure, part of a sting operation organised by German investigators, was the largest yet. A Colombian and two Spaniards who arrived on a Lufthansa flight from Moscow were arrested on arrival in Munich - on the same flight as Viktor Sidorenko, deputy minister of atomic energy, who also came briefly under suspicion. They were carrying high-quality plutonium- 239, thought to have come from Russian weapons production.

Last week's seizure was the third in recent months. In May, six grammes of weapons-grade plutonium were found in a businessman's garage in the south-western state of Baden-Wurttemberg. In June, a small amount of enriched uranium-235 was seized in the Bavarian town of Landshut - where the quality, rather than the quantity (less than one gramme), alarmed security experts.

As part of the sting operation, there had been previous meetings with the smugglers in Munich at the end of last month. A small amount of plutonium-239 had already been handed over and 200 grammes of lithium, which is used in producing the hydrogen bomb.

It is unclear who is supplying these materials, though German officials talk of 'under-paid scientists' in Russia. Mr Schmidbauer has suggested that both international crime gangs and Russian officials could be involved. The German Foreign Minister, Klaus Kinkel, has warned: 'Travelling salesmen with nuclear suitcases pose a new atomic danger.'

The scale of the danger - potential, or real - is still unclear. This week's Focus argues: 'The nuclear bazaar of the (German) Federal Republic - that scenario has long become reality.' Bild newspaper wondered: 'Is the smuggling getting out of control?' The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, in an editorial headlined 'Devil's Stuff', asked: 'Apocalypse now - or later?'

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Kara Tointon and Jeremy Piven star in Mr Selfridge
tvActress Kara Tointon on what to expect from Series 3
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
Sport
footballBrighton vs Arsenal match report
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has spoken about the lack of opportunities for black British actors in the UK
film
News
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us