Organized criminals keep trying to sell material to terrorists

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My question is: how the hell do organized criminals themselves keep getting access to bomb-grade uranium?


That’ll make you sleep better at night…

Where is the distinction between organised criminals and terrorists?

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If you have ever seen reports of what security and conditions are like at a lot of former Soviet missile and nuclear sites are like you would not be surprised at all.


I really don’t have a fear about this. I mean RIGHT NOW, we know Iran, ISIS, or who ever has access to either military grade explosive (actual C-4), or things like old Artillery shells that could be made into IEDs. None of these have radioactive signatures that would possibly be detected by customs.

How hard would it be to sneak these over in back packs and place them in malls, schools, etc. Answer - not that hard.

So either they lack the means to get shit over here (smaller terrorists groups) or they know that a direct attack would not end up good for them (Iran).

I am not worried about the more likely scenario, I am even less worried about the pie-in-the-sky dirty bomb scenario.


Moldova is, I think, the poorest country in Europe. Is it any surpsise entrepreneurs will sell anything that isn’t nailed down? We ought to send in our own agents and just outbid ISIS - problem solved!

See Thieves’ World: The Threat of the New Global Network of Organized Crime by Claire Sterling (1994)

A radioactive material dispersal device, aka a dirty bomb, is nothing to be fearful of. It’s an area denial device, with considerable decontamination cost, but lethality it lacks.

What’s a bomb-grade uranium in a journo-speak? A depleted one for the tamper? An enriched one for the pit? How enriched? How much (few grams are no concern, ten and more kilograms would start worrying me)?


I have reason to suspect that British and US sites are just not as bad. The UK has, I believe, big gaps in its plutonium stocktake, and I was once assured, in a car park conversation with someone who ought to know, that the US is as bad or worse (it is many times bigger and has many times as much of the stuff.) It is actually very easy to transport plutonium, which is why it is so convenient for bombs.

…after reading the article, some more comments.

Depleted uranium is fairly harmless. You can buy uranium ore samples off ebay or find them in nature and they will be more radioactive than DU. The material burns readily when ignited (a little bit easier than magnesium but not pyrophoric in bulk, though I’d be wary of machining it without inert atmosphere or at least a box to contain the smoke and fire if it’d light up), but you have to really try, or fire it at high speed against a tank.
Toxicity-wise it’s comparable to lead. If it gets dispersed and inhaled, worry. If it is a bulk metal, don’t worry, just try to not eat it.

Natural uranium, a bit more annoying radiation-wise, in small amounts just keep some distance, intensity gets down with square of distance from the source.

Highly enriched one is more dangerous but still not That Much. Pure U-235 is partialy dangerous because it is difficult to find by passive sensors.

High amounts of U-235 are a bad news, as a gun device is pretty easy to build, and a good news, as you won’t get above 15-20 kilotons and without a way to get it into considerable altitude the effect will be shielded by ground structures like buildings and terrain. Getting above this yield limit becomes considerably difficult and you have to leave the gun architecture and go for the way more complex implosion kind. If you want a really good instasun, then you have to go thermonuclear and then it is a completely another can of worms and lithium deuteride.

Plutonium is fairly worthless for a dirty bomb. Strontium or caesium has better oomph per gram, due to lower half life, and is likely to be vastly cheaper.

Origin of the materials could be found out or at least hinted at by nuclear forensics. The isotope composition can tell a lot about its history, methods of preparation, feedstock.


You’d think this would be in the AP stylebook especially after years of reporting on the Iranian, and North Korean programs. Bomb grade uranium usually refers to the highly enriched u235 that is compressed into criticality.

It’s confusing because in order to buy the highly active radionucleotides that would be “useful” in a dirty bomb–you first need to buy other, mildly exotic stuff, as a show of good faith. Sounds like a scam? Did you expect anything less?

The sellers claimed to have a huge cache of cesium 137 — which could be used to make a dirty bomb. As in previous cases, they insisted that the buyers prove their seriousness by first purchasing a sample vial of less-radioactive cesium 135, which is not potent enough for a dirty bomb.

Isn’t it U-235? Plutonium is fairly bright, if it is not supergrade. Old common-grade stock is contaminated with Pu-241 which decays into Am-241 which is quite a bright gamma emitter. That’s why supergrade is used where the warheads are close to the operators, namely in submarine based weapons.

…That’s also why the thorium cycle is proliferation-unfriendly. You can make a minisun from U-233, but unlike 235 it gamma-shines which provides problems with concealment, handling, and weapon components material degradation.

Right? We actually sorta used to do that, straight from the Russian source. The Nunn-Lugar program essentially had the US paying for processing and disposal of their nukes and other chemical and biological weapons that could be re-purposed as WMDs after the Soviet collapse. Uranium was diverted from possible foes by the US who purchased it for use in power plants as part of the Megatons-to-Megawatts program.

It’s maybe a little outdated now, but I highly recommend the (unrelated) book Megawatts and Megatons for anyone who is interested in the science of nuclear reactions, for fuel or weaponry, and how they can be cleaned up.

Terror does not need a high body count - the most important effect is fear. Exploding Uranium powder (and tell the world about it, it would be a shame if no one with a Geiger counter is around : )) would be disruptive and effective (not cost effective, though).
Say a dirty bomb on a large air hub or some important national monument (Arlington National Cemetery?).

“…the DHS forensic team already found three hundred bodies, and digging is continuing.”

I can hear the Fox News already! :smiley:


Maybe we should consider not bombing the crap out of civilians all over the world. My guess is that it would help reduce the number of people wanting to blow up the U.S.


Buyer: How do I know this stuff is radioactive?
Seller: Why else would I be wearing latex gloves to handle it?


Organized crime gangs keep trying to sell radioactive material to terrorists

What’s with the The-Mirror-style headline?

I’m asking because, previously on BB:

crappy modern-day chemistry set … contains not much more than a baggie of salt, a plastic eyedropper, and a pair of safety goggles

what was really in those misty colored chemistry sets that have lodged themselves into our cultural memory … their demise was only partly to do with unfounded safety fears

fine science and chemistry sets from before the dark times

a pretty fabulous … children’s science kit that included a Geiger counter, electroscope, cloud chamber, spinthariscope, and, of course, radioisotopes.

BTW, just noticed Maggie Koerth Baker quit boingboing over a year ago … :(( I knew something was missing! But hey, we get more cute animal posts now.


Hey, That’s our job crims!