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Court verdict in the isotope theft case in Lesnoy

Abstract:

After a seven-year investigation and trial, the city court in Lesnoy (formerly Sverdlovsk-45), Sverdlovsk Oblast issued its verdict in a 1993 case involving the theft of stable isotopes (over 1kg of thallium-203, 100g of rubidium-87, and 3.4g of ytterbium-168) by a group of employees at the Elektrokhimpribor Combine (EKhP),  Novyye Izvestiya reported on 30 June 2000. The report confirms most of the previously available information about the case (see abstract 19980370), although some details contradict earlier reports. For example, a 1998 article in Profil said that nine employees from EKhP were involved in the theft, whereas the Novyye Izvestiya report only mentioned six.  According to the 1998 Profil report, the illegally produced isotopes were worth about $500 million. Novyye Izvestiya didn't cite the exact value of the diverted isotopes but said that the group made approximately $32,000 in three years of operations--much less than the market price of the isotopes (a gram of rubidium-87 costs $5,200 and a gram of thallium-203 costs $1,800, the paper said.).  Novyye Izvestiya noted that as a result of the operations of the group from EKhP, the Russian government suffered hundreds of thousands of dollars in financial losses and faced international criticism that damaged its prestige. The Novyye Izvestiya article also shed more light on the scheme of illegal production and distribution of the isotopes. The conspirants were skimming off 5-10 percent of the enriched isotope solution they were using in the production process, and then diluting the solution with distilled water to avoid detection. The diverted solution was accumulated separately and then processed using experimental units which were being tested at EKhP. The illegally produced isotopes were sealed in tubes and easily removed from the facility without detection. At first, the group had difficulty finding customers or middlemen for the material. Then they established a stable distribution channel for the illegally produced isotopes through Stabis, a Moscow-based private company. The director of Stabis, Aleksandr Podkidyshev, who was also the head of the Russian State Center for Stable Isotopes, purchased the illegal isotopes at below-market prices, and then resold them to his own company for a large profit. Most of the isotopes, which are used for medical and industrial purposes, were then exported from Russia, in many cases to US firms such as Walt & Polla International. The court found all members of the group guilty, and sentenced them to three years' imprisonment, but since those convicted had already been in custody longer than that by the time the sentence was handed down, almost all participants of the isotope ring were freed following the verdict. Aleksandr Podkidyshev was the only one of the group who received an additional two-year term. According to the news agency Region-Inform, the convicted thieves may resume work at EkhP, but their security clearance status has been lowered and they cannot return to their previous positions.[1] Novyye Izvestiya said that the 1993 incident had helped prompt improvements in nuclear materials, protection, control and accounting (MPC&A) at Russian nuclear facilities. The United States helped Russia equip practically all nuclear enterprises in the Urals with improved MPC&A systems after this incident. The article also noted that the Russian government only recently decided to create a separate agency to monitor sales of stable isotopes that would resemble Rosvooruzheniye (the state agency in charge of conventional weapons sales).

Abstract Number:  20000530
Headline:  Court verdict in the isotope theft case in Lesnoy
Date:  30 June 2000
Bibliography:  Novyye Izvestiya, 30 June 2000, pp. 1,7.
Author:  Giperboloid inzhenera Tunina [Engineer Tunin's Hyperboloid]
Orig. Src.:  Svetlana Dobrynina

[1] 'Vynesen prigovor raskhititelyam izotopnoy produktsii s predpriyatiya 'Elektrokhimpribor' [Court verdict on the theft of isotopes from 'Elektrokhimpribor'],' Region-Inform, http://www.regions.ru, 15 June 2000.

(For an earlier report on this case see Aleksandr Zhilin, "Russian control over the sale of nuclear materials is less than perfect," Prism: A Biweekly on the Post-Soviet States, vol. 1, issue 17, 25 August 1995, at http://www.jamestown.org/pubs/view/pri_001_017_004.htm.)

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This material is produced independently for NTI by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of and has not been independently verified by NTI or its directors, officers, employees, or agents.

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This article is part of a collection examining reported incidents of nuclear or radioactive materials trafficking in or originating from the Newly Independent States.

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