FBI Helps Moldova Stop Nuclear Smuggling Plot


The FBI have helped the authorities in Moldova to stop three different potential nuclear and radioactive smuggling plots in the last five years, the Moldovan interior minister said on Wednesday.

The cases were sting operations within the former Soviet republic and no-one from jihadi groups were involved, according to a US law enforcement officer involved in the investigations.  But officials were concerned that the smugglers would then sell the materials to extremist groups such as ISIS.

The cases also showed the efforts taken to ensure that such material – which can be used for weapons in some cases – doesn’t make it to the black market.


US Rep. Adam Schiff, a California Democrat and a ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee said that there has long been concerns about radioactive and nuclear materials being smuggled from former Soviet countries.

He said that they were aware that radical Islamic groups such as al Qaeda and ISIS would ‘love to get their hands’ on radioactive materials to make a bomb of some kind.  He added that there have been a number of scenarios since the collapse of the Soviet Union where these sales or purported sales have almost taken place and it remains a concern in the future.

A bomb made out of this type of material could be devastating.  Any area attacked by this type of bomb would be totally uninhabitable for some time.

Joint plan

The US and Moldova have been working together for a number of years to combat nuclear smuggling, the spokesman for the Department of State’s Bureau of International Security and Non-proliferation said.

A joint plan was approved by both countries in 2011 and aimed to provide security at facilities with radiological sources as well as providing radiation detection equipment and the sharing of best practises on smuggling.

US officials are also working with Russian authorities on the matter, State Department spokesman John Kirby added.  While no details about specific operations were released, the official added that there were routine talks with Russian authorities.


The sting operations were first announced in The Associated Press on Tuesday and Oleg Balan, the Moldovan interior minister, gave details about the cases.  They include:

July 2010 – police seize 1.8kg of Uranium 238 known as yellowcake in the capital Chisinau.  It was worth $10 million but the suspects had tried to sell it for $5.6 million.  Seven were arrested including two former Soviet military.

2011 – seven people tried to sell 1kg of Uranium 235 that came from the Transnistria separate region of the country.  One escaped but the rest were arrested.

February 2015 – two arrested for trying to see half a kilogram of Caesium 135 and had sold a sample of 83 grams for $112,000.

The International Atomic Energy Agency says that from 1993 to 2013, there were 664 incidents of theft or loss of nuclear or radiological materials and no data about how many of these were later sold.


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