Top Ten Cases of Nuclear Thefts Gone Wrong

These thieves would have gotten away with it too, if it hadn’t been for those meddling anti-smuggling authorities

Nuclear material explodes into the sky during a thermonuclear test by the French Army in 1970. (Flickr user Pierre J.)

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Turkish police arrest six people for smuggling 13 glass tubes suspected of containing nuclear material from Iran into Turkey. The suspects claim the cylinders contained snake venom, but later confess they planned to deliver them to Istanbul and sell each for $1,000.


Istanbul police seize two kilograms (4.4 pounds) of osmium-187 in 64 glass tubes and take six people into custody. Customs officials had been tipped off about a company involved in an international smuggling ring for nuclear and chemical materials. Heat-resistant osmium is combined with plutonium for coating nuclear missile warheads.


Ukrainian police seize six metal containers filled with cesium-137 in a village in Crimea. The containers’ radiation level exceed the normal background level by 380 times, prompting officers to evacuate the home in which they were discovered and surrounding houses.


A Russian man attempting to sell 100 grams of weapons-grade uranium is arrested through a joint Georgian-CIA operation in Tbilisi, along with several Georgian accomplices. Oleg Khinsagov was carrying a plastic bag full of the highly enriched uranium in his pocket. The capture is one of the largest of its kind, and Khinsagov is sentenced to eight to ten years in prison.


A staffer of the Ukrainian Embassy in Germany and the security manager of a Ukrainian bank are arrested with radioactive materials, including uranium and cesium, worth 3.1 millions euros ($4.1 million) in their car. The material had been stolen from a Kiev holding facility, and the two planned to sell it to a criminal group.


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