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 Sunday, 5 January, 2003, 14:57 GMT
'Dirty bomb material' seized in Asia
Plutonium from Russia
The UN has called for "cradle to grave" control of the materials

A senior American defence official has said radioactive materials, which could potentially be used to make a so-called dirty bomb, have been seized at border posts in Central Asia over the past 12 months.

Testing levels of radioactivity near Chernobyl
"Dirty bombs" could kill thousands of people
The director of International Counter-Proliferation Programmes at the US Defence Department, Harlan Strauss, said the material - contaminated metals - was confiscated at checkpoints along the Uzbek and Turkmen borders.

A United Nations agency has urged "cradle-to-grave" control of radioactive sources to protect them against terrorism or theft.

Since the collapse of the former Soviet Union there have been concerns that political instability or economic hardship might lead to the smuggling of dangerous radioactive materials.

'Widespread phenomenon'

Fears that material could fall into the hands of so-called rogue states or terrorist groups have increased since 11 September.

Uzbek guard at Afghan-Uzbek border
Central Asian states have long, porous borders

The UN Atomic Agency called this year for urgent steps to increase security levels in order to prevent theft and recover missing supplies.

It identified former Soviet Republics as a problem area, including all five Central Asian states, where it said uncontrolled radioactive sources were a widespread phenomenon.

A few years ago 10 lead containers, concealed in a truck of scrap metal, were discovered by Uzbek customs guards.

Porous borders

According to a US defence official, there continues to be movement of material across borders, which is of concern.

One of the problems for the Central Asian states is their long porous borders.

They run for thousands of kilometres across deserts, mountains and steppes.

Uzbekistan never had nuclear capability under Soviet rule but it sits at the heart of regional transit routes.

Millions of dollars are being spent on boosting border security.

Uzbekistan's role and co-operation in this matter is considered extremely important.


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European probe

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See also:

08 Nov 02 | Politics
16 Sep 02 | Americas
11 Jun 02 | Health
10 Jun 02 | Americas
10 Jun 02 | South Asia
07 Mar 02 | Americas
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