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3 try to sell 8 pounds of dirty bomb material

The metal cylinder supposedly contained 8 pounds of plutonium 239, a highly dangerous radioactive material that could be used in a nuclear weapon or a dirty bomb. The price: $10 million, offered by three Ukrainian men, officials said.

world Updated: Apr 16, 2009 02:03 IST
Clifford J Levy

The metal cylinder supposedly contained 8 pounds of plutonium 239, a highly dangerous radioactive material that could be used in a nuclear weapon or a dirty bomb. The price: $10 million, offered by three Ukrainian men, officials said on Tuesday.

The men did not make a sale, the officials said, but were arrested in an undercover operation in Ukraine last week that was conducted by the Ukrainian Security Service. Still, while the plot was foiled, it underscored longstanding concerns that unsecured radioactive material in the former Soviet Union might fall into the wrong hands.

Marina Ostapenko, a spokeswoman for the Ukrainian Security Service, said it had turned out that the radioactive material was not plutonium 239. A preliminary analysis indicated that the material was most likely americium, a much more common and less potent radioactive material, Ostapenko said in an interview from Kiev. She said americium could be deployed in a dirty bomb, but not in a nuclear weapon.

“They wanted to sell it as plutonium,” she said. “They were asking for $10 million for it because they thought that it was plutonium.”

The men were arrested on last Thursday and charged with illegally handling radioactive materials. If convicted, they could face up to 15 years in prison, officials said.