Russian Nuclear Theft Alarms US


A 19 July 2002 article in The Guardian, citing an anonymous US official, reported that Chechen rebels stole radioactive and nuclear materials from the Volgodonsk Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) in Rostov Oblast, Russia. The official claimed that the theft occurred within the last 12 months and the list of stolen materials allegedly included cesium, strontium, low-enriched uranium, and possibly plutonium. The same US official said that the theft was reported by Russian officials to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which in turn informed the US Department of Energy about the incident. IAEA, Russian Ministry of Atomic Energy, and Volgodonsk NPP officials deny the theft, however. The Guardian cited an unspecified IAEA spokeswoman as saying that the agency is "not obliged to treat such an incident in confidence" [implying that the IAEA would reveal such a report if it had been received]. Volgodonsk NPP spokesman Yegor Obukhov said that no material had ever gone missing from the Volgodonsk plant, which was put into operation in December 2001 and has the most rigid security system among nuclear power plants in Russia.[1] Moreover, the plant is not using nor does it plan to use plutonium in its operations, and consequently no plutonium is present on the site. The NPP operates one VVER-1000 reactor, which uses low enriched uranium fuel.[1] In response to The Guardian report, other nonproliferation and nuclear experts also questioned the likelihood of plutonium theft from the Volgodonsk NPP.[2]

[1] "Atomshchiki i chekisty oprovergayut soobshcheniye britanskoy pressy o tom, chto chechenskiye boeviki mogli pokhitit radioaktivnyye materialy s atomnoy elektrostantsii v Rostovskoy oblasti," Ekho Moskvy Web Site,, 19 July 2002.
[2] Charles Digges, "US Official's Claim of Russia Plutonium Theft Has Authorities Scratching Their Heads," Bellona Web Site,, 23 July 2002.

Abstract Number:  20020330
Headline:  Russian Nuclear Theft Alarms US
Date:  19 July 2002
Bibliography:  The Guardian, 19 July 2002; in Lexis-Nexis Academic Universe database,
Author:  Nick Paton Walsh
Material:  plutonium, low-enriched uranium, cesium, strontium

July 19, 2002

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

This material is produced independently for NTI by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of and has not been independently verified by NTI or its directors, officers, employees, or agents. Copyright 2018.