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Czech Police Stop Radioactive Trade as IAEA Discusses Issue - 2003-11-16


As the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna was concluding a conference on how to make radioactive waste globally secure, Czech police were arresting two men for trying to sell enough material to make a massive so-called "dirty bomb."

Undercover Czech officers arrested two men in a "sting" operation for trying to sell them three kilograms of radioactive material. The men, who were from Slovakia, were arrested in their hotel room in the Czech town of Brno as they were counting $700,000 handed over in the deal.

The Czech nuclear safety office says the material confiscated probably came from somewhere in the former Soviet bloc and could be used to make a so-called dirty bomb powerful enough to make a large town uninhabitable.

(A dirty bomb uses conventional explosives to disperse radioactive material. It does not produce a nuclear explosion.)

As the arrests in the Czech Republic were made, IAEA scientists in nearby Vienna were winding up a two-week conference on improving security for radioactive waste. The IAEA says only 33 countries have agreed to a legal convention on common safety standards.

Gordon Linsley, head of waste safety at the IAEA, says radioactive material is widely used in innocent pursuits, for example, to check the welding in pipelines.

"It is not uncommon for these radioactive sources to go missing, and there have been rather large sources from the former Soviet Union which were used for various purposes, and there have been a number of incidents with these being found in the environment and the agency has been engaged in trying to recover these," he said.

Mr. Linsley said he is disappointed that most of the countries in the Middle East and the former Soviet Union have so far not agreed to the convention.

He says radioactive sources can be stolen relatively easily from nuclear waste dumps left unguarded or from hospitals and factories. Terrorists could then buy the material on the black market and assemble a simple dirty bomb that could scatter radioactive material causing panic, contamination and deaths.

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