There is an old Chinese proverb, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with just one step”. There is no telling what the final destination might have been for the 2.2 lbs of uranium seized by police in Slovakia today.
Police have arrested two people in Slovakia and one in Hungary in connection with the seizure, underlining fears in the West that terrorist groups are seeking to build a nuclear device.
The Slovak news agency SITA and its counterpart in the Czech Republic, CTK, citing unconfirmed reports, said that the material was enriched uranium, an integral part of a nuclear bomb.
Martin Korch, a Slovak police spokesman, would not confirm the exact nature of the material but said that it was worth $1 million.
He said that the joint Slovak-Hungarian police raid took place along their common frontier, near Ukraine.
“Three people have been taken into custody, two in Slovakia one in Hungary,” he said.
Uranium enrichment can yield either fuel for nuclear power stations or be used for nuclear warheads.
In Washington the arrests will be seen as a vindication of years of work with police in former Iron Curtain states, where a combination of a supply of nuclear materials and poor law enforcement have made US officials concerned that al-Qa’eda or other terrorist groups could acquire materials for a “dirty” nuclear bomb or something even more powerful.
A spokesman for the FBI said: “The director has expressed his concern that al-Qa’eda is planning future attacks and we know they have actively sought weapons of mass destruction materials to attack the US.”
News of the seizure came as the New Scientist published details of a secret report by Swedish and Russian experts. They are said to have exposed “gaping holes” in arrangements to stop theft of plutonium and highly-enriched uranium from sites in northwest Russia.