Exclusive: Georgia trial reveals how sting netted highly enriched uranium that had been smuggled via train inside lead-lined cigarette box
Highly enriched uranium that could be used to make a nuclear bomb is on sale on the black market along the fringes of the former Soviet Union, according to evidence emerging from a secret trial in Georgia.
Two Armenians, a businessman and a physicist, have pleaded guilty to smuggling highly enriched uranium (HEU) into Georgia in March, stashing it in a lead-lined package on a train from Yerevan to Tbilisi.
Georgia’s president, Mikheil Saakashvili, informed other heads of state of the sting operation at a nuclear summit in Washington in April, but no details about the case have been made public until now. The trial has been conducted behind closed doors to protect the operational secrecy of Georgia’s counter-proliferation unit, officials said. But investigators have given the Guardian an exclusive first-hand account of the case.
It reveals that the critical ingredient for making a nuclear warhead is available on the black market and is reasonably easy to smuggle past a ring of expensive US-funded radiation sensors along the borders of the former Soviet Union. What is not clear is how much nuclear material is in circulation and whether any has already been bought by extremist groups.