Friday, January 11, 2008

Radioactive Dust

This news from Central Asia is rather troubling:
"On January 9, Kyrgyz officials announced that they had taken possession of a small load of radioactive substance discovered aboard a train bound for Iran. The material has been placed in a special area in Kyrgyzstan, but questions are being raised about the nature and quantity of the substance, who was behind its transport, and how the train carrying it crossed three border checkpoints before being detected...

"Kubanych Noruzbaev, an official from the Kyrgyz Ecology and Environmental Protection Ministry, said on January 10 that the material was Cesium-137, a product of nuclear reactors and weapons testing that is often used in medical devices and gauges. But it could also be used in a crude radioactive explosive device -- a 'dirty bomb' -- and underscores the fact that despite some progress since 1991, parts of the former Soviet Union are still littered with sites where lethal radioactive materials remain largely unsecured...

"The Kyrgyz news agency reported on January 9 that the levels of radiation being emitted from the train car were so high that Emergency Situations Ministry asked for volunteers to go and unload the cargo. Four people wearing special protective clothing volunteered to venture into the wagon where they discovered the source of the radiation: dust and waste material on the floor, which they swept up and deposited in a bucket. The bucket was then sealed in concrete and stored in a special facility...

"Kubat Osmonbetov, a geologist, told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service that Cesium-137 and Cesium-140 are definitely lethal in large doses. Osmonbetov also noted that there is a uranium-processing plant in northern Tajikistan, raising the possibility that the Tajik train in question may have been used in the past to transport radioactive material and that remains of that material had somehow been left in the wagon."

The article addresses the fact this train was bound for Iran, but I really see no plausible connection with the Iran's nuclear program. An additional possibility is that terrorists could be involved in some sort of trafficking hoping to make a dirty bomb. Occham's Razor, however, suggests the train previously carried some radioactive cargo in the past, either from the Tajik nuclear plant or for something related to those medical devices. The troubling aspect is that Central Asian states apparently don't have appropriate safety or security protocols in place. This train made it through three previous checkpoints! We can only hope Kyrgyz crime lords didn't just bribe security officials to look the other way.

(Crossposted to American Footprints)

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