In the fourth seizure of weapons-grade nuclear material this year, police in Bremen have arrested a German man and confiscated two grams of plutonium, authorities said Tuesday.
Former East German secret police, army and foreign trade officials are said to be involved in the smuggling of nuclear material from Russia, according to a news report and a senior politician.The smuggler arrested in Bremen on Friday had offered to obtain 70 grams of plutonium, but prosecutors intervened to make the arrest before the larger amount was brought forward.
An ARD television report quoted an unhappy police agent as saying that left about 68 grams of plutonium in circulation in northern Germany. Plutonium is one of the deadliest substances known; inhaling as little as one ten-thousandth of a gram can cause lung cancer.
But prosecutor Hans Georg von Bock und Pollah said there was no indication the rest of the plutonium was in Germany.
Only a tiny fraction of the two-gram sample confiscated Friday was pure, weapons-grade plutonium, he said. The sample was in a metal container.
"You would need a truckload of this stuff to make a bomb," he told reporters.
He also denied the police agent's claim that the arrested man, 34, was connected to the Stasi, the former East German secret police.
The police agent, who was interviewed in shadow on ARD on Monday night, said that former East German security officials were serving as middle men for the sale of Russian radioactive substances in Germany.
The going price for a gram of plutonium is $50,000, the agent said, adding that he had made purchases himself.
"There is substantial evidence that former Stasi people are working as couriers here," said Johannes Gerster, a legislator and spokesman on security issues for Chancellor Helmut Kohl's party.
Germany has become a bazaar where salesmen of radioactive substances search for buyers. Much of the material apparently comes from Russia, where nuclear facilities have become vulnerable to pilfering.
In the worst case, police last Wednesday seized a suitcase with about 300 grams of weapons-grade plutonium from a 38-year-old Colombian, Justitiano Torres, as he disembarked in Munich from a flight from Moscow.
The plutonium was 87 percent of a highly enriched isotope used in nuclear weapons and can only have come from a Russian nuclear weapons plant, according to the Bavarian interior minister, Guenter Beckstein.
Torres and two Spanish businessmen also arrested in the case had no criminal or terrorist backgrounds, Beckstein said.
Both the Munich and Bremen arrests were sting operations in which police agents posing as businessmen made contact with nuclear peddlers.
All four cases in which weapons-grade radioactive material has turned up outside the controlled premises of nuclear factories or labs occurred in Germany - all since May, and all apparently involving Russian material.
German police speculate there may be similar offers being made elsewhere in Western Europe that police either aren't aware of or have yet to publicize.
"It may be that the German double agents are heating up the market," said Anette Schaper of the Foundation for Peace and Conflict Resolution in Frankfurt. "Or it may be that cases are turning up in Germany because the controls are tighter than in other countries."