Authorities tracking a smuggling ring from three East European nations have arrested nine people and confiscated what they believe to be more than 100 pounds of uranium, the Slovak Internal Affairs Ministry reported Friday.
The seizure, made Wednesday, constituted the largest single confiscation of nuclear material in the region by law enforcement authorities intent on preventing such illicit trade from republics of the former Soviet Union.Two Ukrainians, three Hungarians and four Slovaks were charged with illegal possession of radioactive material or the transport of such material, the ministry said.
Tests are still being conducted on the material, which was found in a container in a car driven from Ukraine to Slovakia, a ministry spokesman said. He added that the substance already has been determined to be uranium-238, a non-fissile substance that cannot be used in weapons.
"We don't know if it can be used for bombs, but we know that it is that" type of uranium, ministry spokesman Peter Ondera said by telephone from Bratislava, the Slovak capital.
The arrests came four months after three men - a Russian, a Belarusan and a Czech nuclear scientist - were charged in a separate incident in Prague, capital of the Czech Republic, which with neighboring Slovakia made up Czechoslovakia until the end of 1992. On Dec. 14, authorities confiscated six pounds of uranium-235 from a car on a street corner in Prague and charged the men inside with possession of a radioactive material.