Friday, November 30, 2007

Terrorism: Seized uranium could have been used to make a dirty bomb

Officials in Hungary and neighboring Slovakia say police have detained three suspects who were in possession of material enriched enough to be used to make a so-called "dirty bomb." Stefan Bos reports for VOA from Budapest.

A spokesman for the Hungarian Customs and Finance Guard, Attila Kiss, tells VOA that, after months of preparations, Hungarian and Slovak police detained three suspects on charges of trying to sell enriched uranium for at least $1 million.

Kiss says police discovered half a kilogram of enriched uranium in powder form. The officials said the material was apparently smuggled from the former Soviet Union to Slovakia.

He says the material could have been used to make a dirty bomb.

Police detained one Hungarian citizen in Hungary and another Hungarian and a Ukrainian across the border in Slovakia.

New member countries of the European Union, such as Hungary and Slovakia, have come under pressure to step up security around their frontiers with non-EU member states.

Both countries are soon to join the Schengen Agreement, which allows for the abolition of systematic border controls within the participating nations of the EU.

Kiss told VOA that his agency has increased efforts to detect enriched uranium.

He says the situation is dangerous for Hungary, which already is coping with an increase in illegal migration and smuggling.

The International Atomic Energy Agency, which monitors the illicit trafficking in radioactive materials, says, last year, it registered over 250 reported cases of radioactive materials that were stolen, missing, smuggled or in the possession of unauthorized individuals. That is an increase of nearly 400 percent since 2002.

Nuclear experts say smuggled materials generally come out of Russia and other countries of the former Soviet Union, as security at nuclear-related industries has deteriorated since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

By Stefan Bos Budapest
Published with the permission of Voice of America