Russian official says nuclear material has disappeared from cou

Saturday, November 16, 2002

MOSCOW -- The head of Russia's nuclear regulatory agency says small amounts of weapons- and reactor-grade nuclear materials have disappeared from the country's atomic facilities.

"Instances of the loss of nuclear materials have been recorded, but what the quantity is is another question," Yuri Vishnyevsky, head of Gosatomnadzor, said Thursday. "Of those situations that we can talk about in actuality, they involve either grams of weapons-grade or kilograms of the usual uranium used in atomic power plants."

"Most often, these instances are connected with factories preparing fuel: Elektrostal in the Moscow region and Novosibirsk" in Siberia, Vishnyevsky said.

He did not give further details on when the losses were discovered or how the material might have gone missing.

The International Atomic Energy Agency lists two known thefts of uranium from Elektrostal, in 1994 and 1995. In both cases, the uranium was seized by Russian police.

The agency also lists the 1994 seizure in Germany of 400 grams of plutonium brought in from Moscow.

A few grams of uranium-235, the most common weapons-grade nuclear material, would not be sufficient to make a bomb. But reactor-grade uranium can be enriched to weapons-grade through a complicated process believed to be possessed by some countries trying to develop nuclear weapons, such as Iraq.

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