Georgia: Terror fears over whereabouts of region's nuclear material
Georgia's conflict with Russia has raised fresh concerns over the
whereabouts of the region's nuclear material that could be used by
terrorists to make a "dirty bomb".

By Thomas Harding, Defence Correspondent

Daily Telegraph/UK
Last Updated: 6:50PM BST 17 Aug 2008

When the breakaway region of Abkhazia split from Georgia in 1993, the
world's only known case of enriched uranium going missing was reported
after up to 2kg of the potentially devastating material was stolen from
a laboratory.

There are now fears that the organised criminal gangs that are rife in
the region could exploit the confusion of the current conflict to loot
other stocks.

Security services are worried that terrorist organisations such as
al-Qa'eda could purchase weapons grade uranium and mix it with a
detonator as basic as fertiliser to make a deadly device. While an
estimated 15kg of uranium is needed to make a nuclear bomb just a small
amount is needed for an unconventional device.

"There is no fear of a nuclear bomb coming out of this region but the
bigger danger is that a small amount of uranium combined with
conventional explosive terrorists could make a dirty bomb that would
make an area the size of the City's Square Mile unusable for 30 or 40
years," said a security source. "The economic impact would be
catastrophic."

Between half a kg and 2kg of uranium-235 was taken from a physics
institute in Abkhazia's principal town Sukhumi after scientists fled
during fighting but was not discovered as missing until four years
later in 1997.

But it is not the only incident in the region. A smuggler attempted to
sell up to 3kg of uranium in South Ossetia three years ago with a price
tag of $1 million per 100 grams. While not enough to make a nuclear
device it could contribute to a dirty bomb. The Russian smuggler, from
North Ossetia, never had the chance to sell the entire stock after he
was arrested by Georgian security forces. The uranium was found to be
90 per cent pure, which is weapons grade standard.

Before she retired as MI5's director general Eliza Manningham Buller
warned that it was only a "question of time" before terrorists could
assemble a dirty bomb.

The separatist regions in Georgia could prove a goldmine for
radioactive material which would have a huge value on the black market.

In the last decade there have been a number of occasions when
traffickers have been caught with uranium including a smuggler stopped
on the Armenian border with a tablet of the heavy metal in a packet of
tea.

In the Georgian capital of Tbilisi in 2003 a weighed-down taxi was
found with lead lined boxes contained the strontium and caesium, both
highly radioactive.

On at least two occasion smugglers have been caught going through
rebellious Adzharia province in southern Georgian through the port of
Batumi on the Black Sea.

It is possible some of the material could have been smuggled to Iran
for its nuclear weapons programme or even to a terror organisation that
have yet been unable or unwilling to use it.