Germany tells Kremlin nuclear leaks must stop

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The Independent Online
CHANCELLOR Helmut Kohl told Moscow yesterday that it 'must guarantee' tight controls to prevent nuclear theft, while Russia denies responsibility for plutonium seized in Germany.

German police raided flats throughout Berlin on suspicion that contraband plutonium had been, or was about to be, smuggled to Pakistan, a Berlin state Justice Ministry spokesman said.

Russian officials insisted that 300g of weapons-grade plutonium seized in Munich last week, smuggled on a flight from Moscow, could not have come from Russian installations. The spokesman of the FSK, the successor to the KGB, said that 'not a single gram' of plutonium 239 was missing. The spokesman said: 'The plutonium seized in Germany is not of Russian origin.' The Deputy Minister for Atomic Energy, Yevgeny Mikerin, declared: 'The current hullabaloo has a purely economic purpose.'

The denials do not convince Western experts and appear to hark back to the Soviet tradition of denying the undeniable.

President Boris Yeltsin was apparently more conciliatory in a letter to Mr Kohl, saying Russia was 'willing to work constructively' to solve the problem. Bernd Schmidbauer, a minister responsible for intelligence and security matters, is due to fly to Moscow in the next few days for talks.

Meanwhile, a former senior Soviet nuclear official warned that the recent seizures in Germany are 'the tip of the iceberg'. Vladimir Chernozenko, one of three officials responsible for trying to make the damaged Chernobyl reactor safe after the explosion in 1986, told Die Woche: 'Believe me, there is much more weapons- grade nuclear material in your country than you or the authorities can imagine'.

Washington has expressed concern, with a statement that Bonn was 'very wise' to send Mr Schmidbauer to Moscow. In a television interview Mr Kohl said: 'We have to realise we're not talking about car theft any more, but of much greater threats.'