Georgian authorities arrested two people on Wednesday who attempted to sell in the black market quantities of radioactive uranium-238. The price was fixtured at $2.8 million. Uranium-238 is the least radioactive material in the family of chemical elements, consisted by 99% of pure uranium. It major weakness lies in that it cannot create chain reaction – an important prerequisite for the creation of nuclear bombs.
The arrests took place in the Black Sea town Kobuleti. The detained ones were members of a local criminal gang with international ties. The arrested members face charges which can lead up to ten year imprisonment from the sale of radioactive and outlawed material. Police authorities did not disclose information about the potential buyer or the source of uranium-238 element. The confiscated resource weighed roughly 40 grams.
Uranium-238 can only be converted to plutonium-239 which has potent nuclear weapons capabilities. However, this process is extremely meticulous and requires specialist scientists, facilities and reactors to undertake such a transfusion. In its plain form, it can be used as a building material for creating armour-piercing munitions. Uranium-238 is extremely deadly but only in its munition form.
Uranium-238 also poses a serious health hazard under specific circumstances. It is extremely poisonous but this applies only when ingested. Radiation is minimal and physical exposure to the element does not affect health levels.
The western authorities are alarmed from similar incidents which often occur in former Soviet republics. The abrupt demise of the Soviet Union has resulted in the autonomous operation of several quarries, power plants and weapon factories which often produce unaccounted material destined for international black market. It is not a coincidence that most transnational smuggling rings have an active presence in former Soviet territories.