Missing radioactive fuel uncovered

  • 2002-03-21
  • Wire reports

Law enforcement officials found during a successful operation on March 15 around 20 kilograms of radioactive uranium stolen from Lithuania's Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant nearly a decade ago.

The uranium was found in Utena district, eastern Lithuania.

The find emits 40 times the natural background radiation level.

Ramutis Jancevicius, the chief prosecutor investigating the case, said the pieces of uranium found were stolen from the nuclear plant between 1992 and 1994, the theft of a 270-kilogram uranium nuclear cassette having been arranged with technicians and security working at the plant's reactors.

Two years after the theft the first 8 kilograms of the uranium tablets were seized, when metal traders from Lithuania's second largest city Kaunas tried to sell it.

When one of the organizers of the theft, former Ignalina security staff member Ramunas Macerauskas was detained in 1997, pieces of uranium were found in various hiding places.

The radioactive fuel had been hidden in the town of Visaginas, which lies next to Ignalina, Kaunas, Vilnius and, as the last finding showed, in the district of Utena.

Over 80 kilograms of the stolen nuclear fuel have been found. It is expected that all the stolen uranium will eventually be uncovered.

The container with uranium was found in Utena when examining the fields with a dosimeter and a metal detector. After long hours of searching, a container was found in the ground.

A full analysis of the find has not yet been carried out.

Although they stole uranium worth $40,000, the plant's staff did not profit much from it. They sold the color metal of the nuclear cassette and then attempted to sell the uranium too. But the buyers were undercover agents from the State Security Department.

All the suspects in the nuclear fuel theft were identified and convicted several years ago. However, having taking into account the fact that they indicated the hiding places, the thieves did not receive prison sentences, except for the driver of the bus in which the uranium was taken out of the nuclear plant, Vladas Navickas. He has already served his term.

Uranium tablets were also recently found in neighboring Belarus. Officials there suspect it was nuclear fuel stolen from Ignalina. It is believed that the remainder of the stolen fuel will be found in the near future.