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Senior Fellow, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
April 15, 2019
Illicit Traffickers Arrested in Moldova

January/February 2015

By Kelsey Davenport

Seven people were arrested in Moldova in December for allegedly smuggling radioactive materials that could be used in a dirty bomb.

Dirty bombs combine conventional explosives with radioactive sources to spread contamination.

Ion Bodrug, an official in Moldova’s Interior Ministry, said at a Dec. 9 press conference that raids in Chisinau and two other towns found 200 grams of uranium-238, one kilogram of mercury, and one kilogram of a radioactive substance.

U-238 is the most common isotope of uranium. Unlike U-235, it cannot be used as a nuclear explosive material.

The suspects allegedly transported the material, estimated to be worth about $2.1 million, from Russia on a train, Bodrug said. He did not say if the suspects had arranged a sale, but police collected documents and computers during the raids that uncovered the materials.

Interpol and the FBI worked with Moldovan authorities to uncover the smuggling operation and apprehend the suspects.

In a Dec. 11 press release, Jeffrey Muller, a member of Interpol’s team dealing with chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear weapons-related issues, said the incident demonstrates the need for a “coordinated international approach” to prevent illicit trafficking of radioactive sources and nuclear materials across borders.

According to the Interpol statement, the seven individuals arrested are part of a criminal network that specializes in trafficking radioactive materials.

The International Atomic Energy Agency keeps a database to track incidents of illicit trafficking, theft, or misuse of radioactive and nuclear materials. According to the agency, states report more than 100 incidents a year to the database.

Six people were arrested in Moldova in 2011 for trying to sell one kilogram of weapons-usable uranium.