Criminal Dies Stealing Radioactive Material


One suspect of a reported six was killed by radiation exposure and another seriously injured when they opened a container of radioactive materials during an attempted theft from a chemical factory in Grozny, ITAR-TASS reported on 14 September 1999.[1] During the 13 September 1999 incident, the suspects removed 200g of 'radioactive elements' from the container while trying to steal them from the plant.  The suspect who died, identified only as a resident of the town of Urus-Martan, held the material in his hands for just a few minutes, but reportedly died of radiation exposure 30 minutes later. A subsequent ITAR-TASS report on 24 September 1999 identified the material involved as radioactive cobalt [probably cobalt-60]. [1] The container the suspects opened was identified as one of 28 stored in an underground vault at the chemical factory, with each container holding nine 12-centimeter-long cobalt rods, each with an initial radioactivity of 27,000Ci. The 24 September report added that of a total of six suspects involved, three had died of radiation exposure, and three others had sought treatment in hospitals in Rostov.[1] A 25 September 1999 report in Rossiyskaya gazeta said that 'several of the rods from the opened container have vanished without a trace.'[3] The Moscow daily Kommersant used the incident as the basis for speculating that Chechen fighters might try to use such radioactive materials as contaminants in their struggle against Russian federal troops, who since September 1999 have been attempting to reassert central government control over Chechnya, which gained de facto independence from Moscow in a 1994-1996 civil conflict.[2] Specialists from the Chechen Ministry of Emergency Situations and the Grozny branch of Radon Special Combine are working to decontaminate the site of the incident, which still has a background radiation level several times higher than normal.

[1] ITAR-TASS, 24 September 1999; in Lexis-Nexis Academic Universe, https://web.lexis-nexis.universe/
[2] Maksim Stepenin, 'Jihad-2,' Kommersant-daily, 26 October 1999; in 'Chechen's CW, Radiation Potential Eyed,' FBIS Document FTS19991026000469.
[3] 'Groznyy's Terrible Cobalt,' Rossiyskaya gazeta, 25 September 1999; in 'Cobalt Radiation Threat in Groznyy Continues,' FBIS Document FTS19990927000442.

Abstract Number:  19990810
Headline:  Criminal Dies Stealing Radioactive Material
Date:  14 September 1999
Bibliography:  FBIS Document FTS19990915000301
Author:  Criminal Dies Stealing Radioactive Material
Material:  Radioactive Isotopes

September 14, 1999

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 2019.