Thieves broke through a wall to steal a small amount of cesium-137 at a nuclear storage site in central Russia, Russian news agencies reported Wednesday.
Although the radioactive isotope cannot be used to make nuclear weapons, the incident further highlights Western fears about lax security at Russian nuclear storage facilities.The incident, involving .16 of an ounce of cesium-137, occurred Tuesday at a storage site for nuclear materials at a chemical factory in Uvarovo, 350 miles south of Moscow, according to the Itar-Tass and Interfax news agencies.
There have been no arrests and an investigation is continuing.
Although Russian authorities have insisted that the country's nuclear sites are not as leaky as they are beginning to seem, a top Russian nuclear institute official complained last week that security measures at many nuclear storage sites and research complexes have not been upgraded to deal with modern threats such as terrorists armed with armored vehicles.
Cesium-137, a dangerous, gamma ray-emitting material, is a waste product produced by nuclear reactors. It is used in medicine to treat cancer and also has uses in metallurgy. When the Chernobyl nuclear reactor exploded in 1986, cesium-137 was one of the radioactive elements spewed across the countryside.
This case follows a string of seizures of nuclear materials in Europe and Russia that appear to indicate that low-paid workers in Russia's sprawling nuclear research complex are turning to selling stolen nuclear materials on the black market.
Western countries fear that terrorists or countries like Libya or Iraq could obtain nuclear materials in Russia to build atomic bombs.
Russia and Germany agreed earlier this month to work together to prevent nuclear smuggling after German police in Munich seized what they claimed was weapons-grade plutonium from the former Soviet Union.