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Foiled Uranium Plot Renews Fears About Safety of CIS Nuclear Material

There are renewed concerns that potentially dangerous nuclear material in the former Soviet Union has not been properly accounted for after Georgia's revelation this week of a failed plot involving a Russian man trying to sell weapons-grade uranium to an undercover officer. VOA's Lisa McAdams in Moscow has details.

The case dates back to early last year and involves a Russian and three Georgians, who were trying to sell 100 grams of highly enriched Uranium to a buyer in Georgia. According to news reports, the men said they had still more uranium on offer back in North Ossetia - a claim that has not been independently verified.

All four men have since been imprisoned, following a joint undercover operation involving U.S. and Georgian officials.

Georgia's Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili says he went public with the story this week because he says Russia has not been cooperating or turning over information about the case as requested.

There has been no official reaction from the Russian government. But Alexander Pikayev, a Moscow-based defense analyst, tells VOA that Russia cannot remain silent on this forever.

"These reports require further investigation and I believe [the] Russian side also needs to cooperate quite seriously," he said.

Pikayev says this incident shows a black-market trade of dangerous nuclear materials does exist - and not only in Georgia. As he put it, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has a voluminous (huge) data bank of such discoveries.

The Vienna-based agency is expected to give fuller details of the Georgian case later Friday.

Pikayev says officials need to focus on providing better safeguards to keep such materials from falling into the wrong hands. He says the material should be consolidated into fewer storage sites and removed altogether from storage in civilian institutions.

The Moscow-based analyst says officials also need to cooperate more and politicize less -- a comment that stems from allegations on the Russian side that Georgia only revealed the story now for political gain.

Relations between Russia and Georgia have been tense for months now and show little sign of easing, although the Russian Ambassador to Georgia did return to the capital, Tbilisi, earlier this week. The ambassador was recalled to Moscow last year after Georgia accused several Russian military officers of spying.