U.S. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice arrived in Moscow on Wednesday to put arms control talks with Russia on a fast track, saying the two sides had now surmounted the stalemate on missile defense.
Rice flew in from Ukraine, where she told reporters that Russia and the United States had overcome their dispute over the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty after talks between their two presidents in Italy last weekend. She immediately went into talks with Security Council head Vladimir Rushailo, and emerged in a buoyant mood about prospects for overcoming Russian reticence toward U.S. plans to build a missile defense shield.
"We have every possibility to have a joint approach to the threats of the new era," she told reporters after the two-hour meeting. "We have every possibility to have a cooperative way forward. And I think that is what the two presidents are committed to concentrating on over the next several months."
Rice, who answered one of the reporter's questions in competent Russian, repeated the U.S. stance that the ABM Treaty was outdated. But she said Presidents George Bush and Vladimir Putin, whose meeting in Genoa was their second in a month, "have developed a good relationship and that we have the basis for cooperation on the new conditions in which we find ourselves." Russia and the United States, she said, had to jettison the Cold War precept of "balance of terror."
"We should not want to hold on to that old system, we should be ready to move to a system of security more in accordance with our new emerging partnership with Russia," she said.
Rice meets Putin in the Kremlin on Thursday, along with Commerce Secretary Don Evans and Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill. She will also meet Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov.
Putin on Wednesday was in northern Belarus holding informal talks with Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma and Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko against the backdrop of a festival of Slavic arts and music. Lukashenko told reporters the leaders had discussed international problems and issues of mutual interest, including the U.S. proposal for a missile defense system.
"We heard some interesting information from Vladimir Vladimirovich [Putin] about the latest political events in Genoa and a lot of practical, useful facts from Leonid Danylovych [Kuchma], who of course used to be a rocket engineer," he said.
Kuchma met with Rice earlier Wednesday in Kiev. After those talks, Rice delivered a strongly worded warning to Ukraine, saying its integration into Europe depended on political reforms, transparent probes into the recent killings of journalists and fair elections.
"A very strong message is sent about political reform, about free press … judiciary reform and transparency in the [murder] cases that are of worldwide attention here," Rice said. "We hope to have good relations with Ukraine … but it can only be on the basis of forward movement on these very important issues," she said.
Rice's visit to Kiev and Moscow follows an agreement between Putin and Bush in Genoa to link talks on building the missile defense shield - a move that would violate the ABM Treaty - and cuts in nuclear arsenals.
The ABM Treaty allows each country only one limited missile-defense system covering the capital or a missile installation, on the premise that neither country would strike first without protection from retaliation. Russia says abandoning the treaty would spark a new nuclear arms race. The United States argues that it needs a national missile defense to protect itself against possible attacks by small hostile nations believed to be developing nuclear weapons.
In contrast to Rice's upbeat appraisal on Wednesday of Genoa, Putin denied earlier this week reaching any breakthroughs with Bush. But a member of the State Duma suggested Wednesday that Rice's visit would be significant, given Bush's reputed reliance on advisers in foreign-policy matters.
"I think the conclusions, assessments and proposals that [Rice] brings back to Washington will have if not definitive then certainly a very significant importance for President Bush," Konstantin Kosachev, the deputy head of the foreign affairs committee in the Duma, said on Ekho Moskvy radio.
Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov discussed a timetable for security talks in Hanoi, Vietnam, on Tuesday night, and top Russian and U.S. defense officials are to exchange visits next month. return to menu
2. Dems. Amazed at Bush's Russia View
July 24, 2001
(for personal use only)
WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration's apparent acceptance of Russia as a country that has put the Cold War behind it has left some Democratic senators expressing astonishment.
"It's amazing to me how secure we are about Russian intentions," Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph Biden, D-Del., told Pentagon and State Department representatives Tuesday at a hearing on the administration's national missile defense plan.
The hearing came two days after President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin announced in Genoa, Italy, that the two countries would link talks on missile defense with discussions on reducing both sides' strategic weapons. High-level discussions to work on details were starting in Moscow on Wednesday.
"The Cold War is over," John R. Bolton, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, told the committee. "We need to move away from the remnants of a relationship that was one of ideological conflict and hostility with the Soviet Union."
Bolton and Douglas Feith, who was sworn in as undersecretary of defense for policy just last week, said the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty that would be violated by a national missile defense "codifies a Cold War relationship that is no longer relevant to the 21st Century."
"The Russians know ... that nothing we are doing in this program is going to be undermining Russian security," Feith said. Any doubts they have would be allayed through the Moscow discussions, he said.
In Russia, meanwhile, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, Putin's right-hand man, said Tuesday that Moscow would consider making changes to the ABM Treaty, indicating a softening of Russian opposition to U.S. missile defense plans.
Russia has long maintained the treaty is a keystone of global security, but Ivanov said Tuesday that if experts conclude some treaty changes won't harm Russia's security, he would report that to Putin, the Interfax news agency reported.
"Nobody knows where these consultations are going to come out for sure," Bolton told the U.S. Senate, "but we want to start out on the optimistic side, hoping that ... through these discussions, we can come to a more normal relationship with Russia."
Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., like Biden, questioned the rosy prognosis for the U.S.-Russia relationship.
"Times change. Things happen. Countries don't trust each other," Kerry said. "I don't know what's going to happen in 20 years. I don't know what kind of Russia we'll have in 20 years."
Kerry said he supports a limited missile defense system but said it could be far less expensive if it didn't have to counter accidental or unauthorized Russian launches as well as intentional attacks by rogue nations and terrorists.
"If our newfound relationship with Russia is indeed what you say it is ... could we not have a far more intrusive, joint protocol which would almost make it impossible to have an unauthorized launch - a level of security with joint keys, or whatever?" Kerry said.
As for an accidental launch, he said, "A technician ought to be able to push a button on a panel and blow the thing up."
Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., criticized Russia even as he stressed that the ABM Treaty should be scrapped as "a relic of a bygone era."
"While Russia's government is still autocratic and undemocratic, and its war on the Chechen people is an abomination, nevertheless the world is now a long way from the days when the Soviet Union wrapped its tentacles virtually around the globe," Helms said.
Helms insisted no one was bowled over by the Russians.
"We are short of Pollyannas in the Bush administration," Bolton assured him, adding later, "We're a group of pretty hardheaded realists."
Many missile defense critics, including allies, have worried that it might prompt a new arms race.
"The reason the Russians object to this, the reason the Chinese are apoplectic about their 23 missiles perhaps being completely rendered useless by a defensive system, is because they know it alters the balance," Kerry said.
"If you change a country's perception of its safety, ... aren't you also then inviting them to alter the balance of power in order to secure a greater level of safety?" he asked.
"If their perception is inaccurate, ... it is our task to disabuse them of their misperception," Bolton replied.
Said Biden: "The bottom line for me is: At the end of the day, are we more or less secure?"
The United States could violate the ABM Treaty with any of a variety of planned steps, and Feith said a group studying the treaty should make that determination Monday. return to menu
3. Text: Bush, Putin Joint Statement on Upcoming Talks on Strategic Issues
"Intensive consultations" to begin on offensive, defensive systems
U.S. Department of State Washington File
July 22, 2001
(for personal use only)
The White House July 22 in Genoa, Italy, released the following joint statement by President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin following their bilateral meeting at the conclusion of the three-day Summit of the Group of Eight.
THE WHITE HOUSE Office of the Press Secretary July 22, 2001
JOINT STATEMENT BY US PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH AND PRESIDENT OF THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION VLADIMIR V. PUTIN ON UPCOMING CONSULTATIONS ON STRATEGIC ISSUES
We agreed that major changes in the world require concrete discussions of both offensive and defensive systems. We already have some strong and tangible points of agreement. We will shortly begin intensive consultations on the interrelated subjects of offensive and defensive systems.
1. Excerpt: Disarmament, Non-Proliferation and Arms Control
Conclusions of the Meeting of the G-8 Foreign Ministers
July 19, 2001
(for personal use only)
2. With a view to maintaining and strengthening strategic stability and international security in the face of the challenges of the 21st century, we place great importance on the existing regimes of multilateral treaties and export control arrangements designed to cope with the threats that the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery can pose. In this context, we welcome efforts to strengthen international arms control and non-proliferation regime and reaffirm our determination to promote compliance with and the universality of the fundamental treaties related to weapons of mass destruction and to contribute to the implementation of the conclusions of the 2000 NPT Review Conference. We welcome the readiness of Russia and the US to continue deep reductions in their strategic offensive arsenals and to strengthen strategic stability. We welcome efforts to agree on measures, including potential enforcement and compliance measures to strengthen the BTWC. We remain fully committed to pursue efforts to ensure that the BTWC is an effective instrument to counter the growing threat of biological weapons. We welcome efforts by members of the MTCR to produce an international code of conduct against missile proliferation and to promote its universalisation. So long as the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty has not entered into force, we urge all states to maintain global existing moratoria on nuclear testing. We reaffirm our commitment to an immediate commencement of negotiations on a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty with a view to their conclusion within five years. We call on all States who have not already done so to conclude appropriate safeguards agreements and Additional Protocols with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
3. We continue to attach the utmost importance to ensuring that weapon-grade plutonium no longer required for defence purposes is never used for nuclear weapons. We invite all donors intending to contribute substantially to the Russian Federation disposition program to join in completing an international financing plan and in initiating negotiations on a multilateral framework for the programme. We will also support the efforts of the Russian Federation to destroy its chemical weapons in accordance with the Chemical Weapons Convention. return to menu
C. Cooperative Threat Reduction
1. U.S. to Revamp Parts of Russia Arms Control Aid
July 17, 2001
(for personal use only)
WASHINGTON -- An internal government review has recommended the United States streamline two elements in its $800 million annual program to halt the spread of arms and technology from the old Soviet nuclear arsenal, a senior official said on Tuesday.
The two programs are designed to prevent the spread of weapons-grade plutonium from decommissioned weapons and to deter Russian experts from selling their nuclear expertise to so-called rogue states, like North Korea or Iraq.
"Basically we have to look at options, perhaps options that are cheaper and that can be completed quicker," the senior official told Reuters, referring to the plutonium program. It only takes around 15 pounds (7 kg) of weapons-grade plutonium to make a powerful bomb. Each side agreed to dispose of 34 tonnes of the substance.
"We're going to dispose of it but we're looking at cheaper, better ways to do it," said the official, who asked to remain anonymous. He also said steps were needed to streamline measures to prevent a nuclear brain-drain from fueling weapons programs outside the existing nuclear club. "We have to be able to get more bang for our buck."
The review's recommendations await consideration by top officials and reaction from Congress. The official said the current programs could face a major shake-up, although other, cheaper means would be found to give Moscow the resources it needs to make the plutonium safe.
The other program aims to keep scientists in 10 so-called nuclear cities employed, in order to prevent them from selling their know-how elsewhere. Inflation, failure to pay wages and falling living standards have hurt the scientists, who as favored workers in the Soviet era once lived lives of relative luxury. Further adding to costs in both countries, is a requirement to begin conversion of weapons plutonium into fuel, no later than 2007. The cost for construction of such facilities alone is estimated at between $1.8 and $2.8 billion in Russia. The overall cost of the program in the United States over a 20-year cycle is currently estimated at $6.5 billion.
"We were trying to raise money from the G7 (Group of Seven major industrialized states) and we didn't get close," the official said. Washington pledged $400 million and the others, $300 million. In Russia, the system to create energy out of plutonium in a safe way, by creating a product that could not be used in nuclear weapons, could be done in cheaper ways -- perhaps by using existing facilities, the official said.
The Clinton administration, facing demands to cut aid to Russia for reasons ranging from corruption to its campaign in Chechnya, often argued this was counter-productive as most U.S. spending helped stop lethal weapons getting into the hands of "rogue states" or "terrorists." Fired by criticisms that Clinton oversaw the transfer of billions of dollars to Russia that went into the hands of rich men and failed to prevent its economic crisis, the Bush administration promised a review of all Russian programs.
"The goal was to get better value for taxpayer money," the official said. It was likely that the $200 million spent on technical and economic assistance to non-government organizations in Russia would be kept as it is. "It will be about stable," he said. A program to turn 500 tons of highly enriched uranium from warheads into reactor fuel was still under review and was also likely to face an efficiency drive, although probably not a reduction in resources, he added.
Experts also cite problems with the nuclear cities program, including an effort to employ former weapons scientists in the computer software sector, including work for major U.S. firms. The U.S. official said lingering security concerns among the Russians had kept these cities virtually closed to their U.S. business partners. One measure included a mandatory 45-day notice period ahead of visits.
"If you're trying to commercialize a project and bring in private industry, what private employer's going to be willing to meet that requirement if they're going to fly half way round the world?" he said. return to menu
D. Plutonium Disposition
1. Russian Critics Fear Plutonium Conversion
Moscow to seek G-8 cash for plan backed by Canada
July 19, 2001
(for personal use only)
MOSCOW -- Canadian support for a Moscow proposal on processing atomic material could significantly worsen pollution in Russia, environmental activists here charge.
Russia is seeking a $2 billion (U.S.) donation from Group of 8 leaders to expand its giant Mayak nuclear reprocessing plant in Ozersk, 2,500 kilometres east of Moscow.
G-8 leaders are to discuss financing conversion at Mayak of plutonium from nuclear weapons into nuclear reactor fuel.
Nadejda Kutepova, 29, a nurse and environmentalist from Ozersk, has helped rally 32 Russian environmental groups opposed to the G-8 plutonium plan that Prime Minister Jean Chrétien helped launch in 1996.
Last year, the United States and Russia each agreed to dispose of 34 tonnes of plutonium from warheads by mixing it with uranium into a high-potency kind of reactor fuel known as mixed oxide (MOX).
The United States can afford its half of the deal. Russia says it needs the $2 billion to create a MOX plant at Mayak.
After pledging $400 million to Russia, Washington called on Canada and the other G-8 countries - Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Japan - for the rest. In Genoa, Russian President Vladimir Putin hopes they will deliver.
Ottawa has spent millions promoting the plan with the hope that Canada might benefit financially from contracts to burn U.S. and Russian weapons plutonium as fuel in the Bruce station near Kincardine.
In Moscow recently, Foreign Affairs Minister John Manley said the G-8 plan is a safe way to destroy Russian plutonium and reduce the risk of nuclear weapons proliferation.
Russian environmentalists, particularly those like Kutepova who live near centers that will convert plutonium to reactor fuel, bitterly oppose the plan. They fear it will increase pollution in Mayak, already responsible for the world's worst radioactive contamination.
A recent Russian-American study describes the river running past Mayak as "essentially an open, radioactive, liquid-waste-disposal sewer."
If the G-8 leaders approve the plan, plutonium from as many as 18,000 warheads will be prepared for use in reactors.
Data from Canadian physicists suggests Russia's weapons-grade plutonium, when diluted and combined with uranium in MOX, would produce as much electricity as generated by all of Canada's nuclear power plants in 2 1/2 years. return to menu
2. Leaders to Discuss Fate of Leftover Plutonium
July 18, 2001
(for personal use only)
Disagreement within the Group of Eight industrialised countries over what to do with roughly 68 tons of weapons-grade plutonium left over from the cold war is expected to be high on the agenda as G8 leaders meet in Genoa on Friday.
Last year Russia and the US agreed to reduce stockpiles by 34 tons each. The US would convert 25 tons to mixed-oxide fuel (Mox), while immobilizing nine tons. Russia would convert all 34 tons to Mox.
G8 countries granted $455m to Russia for this purpose, out of a total project cost estimated at between $1.9bn and $3bn.
But US government officials are now believed to be unhappy with the deal, which was agreed by the Clinton administration, and have been rethinking plans to grant Russia aid until better controls can be developed on how the money is spent.
Germany has also cut funding for conversion of the plutonium into Mox for environmental reasons, and has called for surplus plutonium to be immobilised.
According to Greenpeace, the environmental pressure group, "the Mox programme is creating more proliferation problems than it is solving. Moreover, it is environmentally dangerous and uneconomic. The G8 must stop it now."
Russian officials, however, say there are clear economic reasons to convert the plutonium into fuel.
"Disposition of weapons plutonium must be seen as the first step in developing a technology for a future closed nuclear fuel cycle," a study prepared by Russia's ministry of atomic power states. return to menu
E. Nuclear Cities
1. Nuclear Cities Initiative Sponsored Laparoscopy Center Opens in Sarov, Russia
National Nuclear Security Administration
July 18, 2001
(for personal use only)
Washington D.C. - Under the auspices of the Department of Energy's Nuclear Cities Initiative (NCI), a Laparoscopy Center opened in Sarov, Russia today transforming the weapons complex in Sarov and also providing the added benefit of introducing a new medical technology to the city. This center reflects the remarkable cooperation between the Medical College of Georgia (MCG) and the Medical Center of Sarov, resulting in a unique business opportunity designed to diversify the economy of the closed Russian nuclear city.
The Laparoscopy Center in Sarov will provide a high level of medical care to the citizens of Sarov and its surrounding area. The reductions in hospital stay and recovery time will result in financial savings to the city as well as reduce demand on the usage of hospital beds. While the Sarov center will initially create seven jobs, it has the potential to create a much larger health business network throughout the region and provide a model for integrating medical services, lowering hospital costs, keeping revenue in the region, and attracting revenue from other areas.
"The opening of the Laparoscopy Center is a mutually beneficial effort for the people of Sarov and the United States. Its successful creation helps provide the basis for a new business opportunity and provides an exciting model for other closed nuclear cities," said General John Gordon, Administrator of the Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration, which oversees the NCI program.
This $300,000 program was implemented through a partnership of the Savannah River Site, the Medical College of Georgia, and the Joint Stock Company "Rehabilitation Center," of Sarov, Russia. Initially, the Medical College of Georgia evaluated the condition of the Sarov hospital and medical care service. Through consultations with the Sarov hospital, a list of equipment was selected based on the city's needs and compatibility with the hospital's infrastructure.
The Nuclear Cities Initiative Program enhances U.S. and global security by supporting weapons complex reduction in the Russian nuclear cities; removing functions and equipment from the weapons complex; reducing the physical footprint; and creating sustainable, alternative non-weapons work within a functioning city economy. The program was established in 1998 in a Government-to-Government Agreement between the U.S. and the Russian Federation.
David Zigelman, representing the Energy Department's Savannah River Site (SRS), and Dr. Thomas Gadacz and Barbara Tyler of the Medical College of Georgia represented the Nuclear Cities Initiative Program at the opening and joined Russian Federal, regional and city leaders for the opening ceremonies. Sarov Medical Center's Chief Surgeon Dr. Vladimir Ivanov recognized the contribution of Dr. Gadacz by honoring him with an invitation to lead the first Laparoscopic procedure performed in Sarov.
SRS is part of the U.S. Department of Energy complex of national facilities and laboratories and is operated by the Westinghouse Savannah River Company. The Savannah River Site's mission is to serve the nation through safe, secure, cost-effective management of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile, nuclear materials, and the environment.
The Medical College of Georgia was chartered in 1828. The University offers 48 academic programs in allied health sciences, dentistry, graduate studies, medicine, and nursing at the professional certificate, associate, baccalaureate, masters, doctoral, and first professional level. Additionally, MCG offers residency training in medical and dental specialty areas. return to menu
F. Russia - China Cooperation
1. Russia, China to Cooperate in Nuclear Projects
July 20, 2001
(for personal use only)
Russia and China are going to cooperate in designing a nuclear energy plant for spacecraft and in manufacture of the so-called MOX fuel, a mixture of plutonium and uranium.
The cooperation accord was made in Moscow on Friday [20 July] by Russian Nuclear Energy Minister Aleksandr Rumyantsev and the chief of China's State Committee for Science, Technology and Defence Industry, Liu Jibin.
They co-chair a Russian-Chinese nuclear energy commission, which is part of the inter-governmental economic, and technological cooperation commission.
The project of the space nuclear plant and MOX fuel will involve specialists from several research centres of Russia and China.
Apart from joint research, Russia's experts take part in construction of a Taiwanese nuclear power plant, a uranium enrichment factory and an experimental fast breeding reactor in China.
Rumyantsev and Jibin also discussed the progress with these projects.
The building of the Taiwanese plant is going to schedule, and Russia will send a jacket for the first energy unit at the end of this year. The plant will be launched in 2004-05. Construction work has been going for two and a half years. The plant's third phase has been finished and the fourth begun.
Rumyantsev and Jibin stressed that their meeting followed a visit to Russia by Chinese President Jiang Zemin. They said the joint nuclear projects were an indication of the two countries' developing strategic partnership and an example of fulfillment of the Russian-Chinese friendship treaty. return to menu
G. U.S. Nuclear Stockpile Security
1. Piece Misportrayed Nuke Inventory Bug
Kenneth E. Baker
Letter to the Washington Post
July 24, 2001
(for personal use only)
RE: "RUSSIAN Scientists Flush Out U.S. Bug" commentary by Bruce Blair of the Center for Defense Information [published in July 13, 2001 RANSAC Nuclear News --ed.]
Blair is correct to praise U.S. cooperation with Russia to safeguard that country's nuclear weapons materials, but he's wrong to suggest a software glitch could threaten our system for tracking nuclear materials in the United States. ...The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), within the Department of Energy, is responsible for ensuring the safety and security of U.S. nuclear material associated with the nuclear weapons program. U.S. nuclear material accountability systems are rigorously tested and have demonstrated capability for tracking all accountable nuclear materials. All our accountability systems are compliant with stringent requirements that ensure appropriate protection against unauthorized access and disclosure.
On a periodic basis, physical inventories are performed to provide assurance that no nuclear material has been diverted and that the accountability system accurately reflects the quantity, form and location of nuclear material holdings. The NNSA's Material Protection Control and Accounting program provided the Kurchatov Institute and other Russian institutes a simplified version of an accounting program operating system that would be adapted for individual site-specific applications. It was the combination of the U.S.-provided operating system and the Kurchatov-designed software that created the error reported in the Blair commentary.
The accounting software designed by the Kurchatov Institute in Moscow was never intended for use in tracking weapons-grade nuclear materials in the United States. Therefore, at no time was the U.S. system compromised, nor was any other Russian institute's system at risk. Once the error was identified, Los Alamos National Laboratory experts worked closely with their Russian colleagues to rectify the problem. As of June 2000, a senior Kurchatov Institute official stated that the Kurchatov system was now fully functional. Resolution of this issue is a tribute to the excellent working relationship between the NNSA, its national laboratories and their Russian counterparts in the nuclear threat reduction arena. ...
KENNETH E. BAKER Acting Deputy Administrator for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation National Nuclear Security Administration Washington, D.C. return to menu
H. Nuclear Smuggling
1. Weapons-Grade Uranium Seized
1.7kg of nuclear material found in Georgia may have been destined for a rogue state or terror group
Amelia Gentleman and Ewen MacAskill
July 25, 2001
(for personal use only)
Police officers in Georgia said yesterday that four men had been arrested trying to sell a large quantity of enriched uranium, raising the fear that it may have been destined for a terrorist group or country classified by the US as a rogue state.
Although there has been an increased number of cases of smuggling nuclear material since the collapse of the Soviet Union, it is rare for uranium of this quality and quantity of to appear on the black market.
The men were arrested by local anti-terrorist police last Wednesday morning in a hotel room in the Black Sea port of Batumi, apparently finalizing plans for selling the weapons-grade uranium.
About 1.7kg of what is believed to be uranium-235 stood inside a large glass jar, wrapped in a plastic bag, on the hotel room floor. It is believed to have been heading for Turkey, which is often used as a transit point. The final destination is not known.
The US says that the countries seeking uranium on the black market include North Korea and Iran. Iraq is not thought to be among the buyers in this instance, since it knows how to enrich uranium.
There is no independent confirmation of the US claim that North Korea and Iraq have a nuclear capability.
The US also lists 12 terrorist groups which it claims have tried to buy nuclear material, including that led by Osama bin Laden and the Japanese sect responsible for the Tokyo underground poisoning.
Rizor Sakvarelidze, head of the anti-terrorist unit of the Georgian autonomous region of Adzharia, said: "We don't have any protective clothing, so we had to perform the arrest and the seizure of the material with our bare hands."
The three unemployed men and a captain in the Georgian army were hoping to be paid $80,000 (£56,300) a kilogram.
Officials believe that the haul may have been stolen from a Russian nuclear submarine. It is being analysed in Tblisi, and the results are expected to give a clearer idea of its origin.
Hundreds of attempts to smuggle radioactive material out of Russia are made every year, but most cases involve relatively low-risk strontium isotopes in materials stolen from hospitals or the mining industry. These isotopes do not have nuclear bomb making potential.
"Instances of uranium being stolen are much rarer; especially highly enriched uranium," Igor Kudrik, of the nuclear watchdog Bellona, said. "This kind of enriched uranium could be used to make a so-called 'dirty' nuclear bomb; not a sophisticated weapon, but powerful enough to wipe out a city."
The 1.7kg would not have been enough to manufacture a whole bomb: at least twice as much would be needed.
"But this is still a significant amount, and it is an extremely worrying case," Mr. Kudrik said. "The know-how required to turn this material into a bomb is not that difficult. Anyone with a good education in physics should be able to do it."
Ivan Safanchuk, director of the Moscow office of the Centre for Defence Information, said: "If this material does turn out, after analysis, really to have been highly enriched uranium, then it is very scary news, because the greatest difficulty rogue states or terrorists face if they want to make a nuclear bomb is finding weapons-grade plutonium [an alternative] available on the black market.
"It is extremely unusual for highly enriched uranium to be found on sale."
David Kyd, chief spokesman for the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations body based in Vienna, said that although lots of cases of smuggling appeared in the press, most of it was of small quantities and not sufficiently enriched for making nuclear weapons.
He said most countries and terrorist groups were wary of buying on the black market because of stings by intelligence groups and criminal gangs.
Enriched uranium is used as fuel on Russian nuclear submarines and the substance on sale could have been stolen from the base of the northern fleet near the Arctic port of Murmansk.
In 1993, nuclear fuel rods thought to contain uranium-235 were stolen from a storage depot in Murmansk by two officers who simply walked past the old woman on duty.
Since then, a series of American-funded programmes have radically improved security at most of Russia's nuclear stores. "If such programmes continue, then the nuclear materials will be much more secure," Mr. Kudrik said.
"But you still have to consider the current social problems in Russia. If the person who is supposed to be guarding these materials is unable to live on his salary, then no amount of sophisticated, hi-tech security equipment is going to offer any protection against theft."
Terror trail uncovered
A lot of uranium was smuggled in the mid-90s and there has been another surge in the past two years:
July 2001 French police find five grams of enriched uranium in the possession of a French swindler in Paris. A man is arrested in Germany for allegedly stealing contaminated plutonium
January-March 2001 20 cases of illegal trafficking in radioactive materials, with thefts in Germany, Romania, South Africa and Mexico.
April 2000 Detectives in Colombia seize £1m-worth of enriched uranium from an animal feed salesman. 920 grams of enriched uranium found in Georgia
July 1995-April 2000 13 seizures in Western Europe and 41 along southern routes through Turkey, the Caucasus, Central Asia and Middle East.
May 1991-June 1995 53 seizures in Western Europe and 11 along the southern routes.
1994 Colombian arrested in Frankfurt traveling from Moscow with plutonium in his suitcase. Turned out to be a sting by German intelligence. return to menu