With Plutonium Arrests, Accusations Fly between Russia and Germany Atomic Energy Spokesman Says Accusations Part of a `Nuclear Discrediting' Campaign against Russia

By Wendy Sloane, | The Christian Science Monitor, August 18, 1994 | Go to article overview
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With Plutonium Arrests, Accusations Fly between Russia and Germany Atomic Energy Spokesman Says Accusations Part of a `Nuclear Discrediting' Campaign against Russia


Wendy Sloane,, The Christian Science Monitor


RUSSIAN officials have angrily denied that the weapons-grade plutonium seized in Germany over the past week originated in Russia, while environmental activists claimed Wednesday that the fissionable material could only have come from a Russian nuclear plant.

Federal Counter-Intelligence Agency spokesman Vladimir Tomarovsky accused the West of launching a campaign to discredit Moscow on Tuesday, the same day that German police announced they had confiscated the second cache of smuggled plutonium 239 in a week.

"Western public opinion is trying to create the belief that Russia, with all its problems, is not in a position to maintain reliable controls on materials of this kind," Mr. Tomarovsky said at a news conference. "So far we can definitely say this is propaganda."

The latest seizure, the fourth in four months, involved a 34-year-old German charged in Bremen, Germany with illegal possession of two grams of plutonium 239. He reportedly offered undercover police 70 grams of the substance before his arrest Friday.

Last Wednesday, Bavarian police seized three to 10 ounces of plutonium 239 in the luggage of three men - none of whom were Russian - aboard a Lufthansa airliner flying nonstop from Moscow. The International Atomic Energy Agency says between 17 to 22 pounds of the substance is needed to make a crude nuclear bomb. Confiscation confirms fears

The incidents confirm Western fears that nuclear materials could fall into terrorist hands. They are concerned that developing countries desiring to manufacture their own nuclear devices could gain access to the highly enriched plutonium.

The origin of the seized plutonium has not yet been confirmed. But Western officials widely believe it originated in Russia, and its discovery underlines the mounting problem of former Soviet atomic stockpiles.

Russian nuclear scientists are thought to be easy bribe targets because they receive such low salaries. And a severe lack of funds means security at nuclear facilities is poor.

On Tuesday, US State Department spokesman Michael McCurry said Washington would push for Russia to tighten control over its nuclear facilities. Bernd Schmidbauer, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl's aide in charge of intelligence affairs, is expected in Moscow soon to discuss the issue. Campaign to discredit

But Russian Atomic Energy Ministry spokesman Georgy Kaurov said no weapons-grade plutonium or uranium had been reported missing from Russia's nuclear plants.

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