Bulgaria arrests nuclear thieves

SOFIA (Reuter) - Bulgarian police have found 19 containers of radioactive materials, including plutonium, caesium and strontium, hidden by amateur thieves in two cellars in Sofia.

Six Bulgarians were arrested in a week-long police operation to recover the biggest haul ever reported in the country. One of the containers, holding caesium-137, gave off radiation 1,000 times the normal level. Another, containing plutonium-239, radiated 250 times the normal level.

The haul follows a series of high-profile seizures of smuggled radioactive materials in Germany, but Bulgarian police, amazed at the ignorance of the suspected thieves, found no evidence of any trafficking network.

'There was no sign that they were connected with foreigners . . . or that a deal was done,' said an official. 'None of them had specialised technical knowledge or education.'

A senior official from the Bulgarian Atomic Energy Committee said the material was probably stolen locally. 'Most probably the material was stolen from Bulgarian industrial enterprises,' said the committee's safety director, Petar Todorov.