Heavily armed gang attacks nuclear fuel convoy in Brazil

Angra Nuclear Power PlantA convoy of trucks carrying nuclear fuel to one of Brazil’s nuclear plants was attacked by a heavily armed gang on Tuesday, according to police reports. The convoy was carrying uranium fuel from Resende, an industrial city in the municipality of Rio de Janeiro in southeastern Brazil. Its destination was the Angra Nuclear Power Plant in the coastal city of Angra dos Reis, which is located 100 miles south of Resende. Angra is Brazil’s sole nuclear power plant. It consists of two pressurized water reactors, Angra I and Angra II. It is owned by Eletrobras, Brazil’s state-owned power utility firm, which is also the world’s tenth largest electric utilities company.

According to Brazil’s O Globo newspaper, the nuclear fuel convoy came under heavy attack by gunmen as it reached the outskirts of Angra dos Reis, just a few miles north of the power plant. The Brazilian Federal Highway Police said in a statement that its vehicles that were escorting the nuclear fuel convoy were shot at and returned fire. It added that the attackers fled the scene without anyone getting hurt, and that no arrests were made. The convoy then reached the power plant without further incident 20 minutes following the shootout. The police statement was followed by a public announcement by Eletronuclear, Eletrobras’ nuclear utility arm. The announcement argued that national security was not compromised by the attack, as the fuel carried by the trucks consisted of “uranium in its natural state”. It would therefore have to be weaponized with the use of advanced mechanical instruments before it could be truly harmful.

Brazilian Federal Highway Police officials told reporters that they did not believe that the gunmen had planned to attack the nuclear fuel convoy. They claimed that the convoy happened to be passing from the scene of the attack as a shootout was taking place between members of rival drug gangs, which are known to control the outskirts of Angra dos Reis. Some of the gang members began shooting at the police vehicles escorting the convoy, apparently without realizing that the trucks they were shooting at were carrying nuclear fuel.

The incident underscores the steady rise and increasing aggressiveness of organized criminal gangs in Brazil, which, according to some observers, are beginning to resemble Mexico’s drug cartels. Angra dos Reis’ Mayor Fernando Jordão told O Globo that the residents of his city felt unprotected by the federal government. “Regional security must be improved”, he added, especially since “there are nuclear plants here. This region is very sensitive”, he said.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 20 March 2019 | Permalink

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Radioactive device goes missing in Malaysia, prompting security fears

Malaysia’s Atomic Energy Licensing BoardA highly radioactive device used by an energy company has gone missing in Malaysia, sparking a nationwide emergency for fear that it might have been stolen by a militant group. According to Malaysia’s Straits Times newspaper, a radioactive dispersal device (RDD), which is used for the industrial radiography of oil and gas supplies, disappeared during transit on August 10. The device, which weighs approximately 50 pounds, or 23 kilograms, disappeared from the back of a company truck in the early hours of the morning while it was being transported by two technicians. They were reportedly transporting the RDD from Kuala Lumpur to Seremban, an industrial town with a population of approximately 600,000, located 40 miles south of the Malaysian capital.

The technicians told the police that they placed the RDD onto the back of a company truck for the routine transport, at approximately 2:00 a.m. Upon arriving in Seremban at 3:00 a.m. that night, they realized that the device had “simply disappeared” from the truck. The Straits Times said that both men were immediately arrested, but were released last Friday, August 17, after the authorities determined that they were not implicated in sabotaging or stealing the radioactive device. On Monday, August 20, the Reuters news agency contacted Mazlan Mansor, police chief of Selangor, the federal province that includes both Kuala Lumpur and Seremban. He told the news agency that “yes, there is a report and we are investigating”. However, he refused to elaborate on the missing RDD, according to Reuters.

A major question regarding the missing device concerns the amount of iridium that is inside it. Iridium is a radioactive substance that is used for the non-destructive testing (known as industrial radiography) of oil and gas supplies. Some experts have expressed concerns that the radioactive substance inside the missing RDD could be combined with conventional explosives and be used as a ‘dirty bomb’ in order to contaminate a highly populated area with radiation. The New Straits Times quoted an unnamed official at Malaysia’s Atomic Energy Licensing Board as saying that the RDD “cannot fall into the wrong hands, as the consequences can be deadly”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 22 July 2018 | Research credit: A.G.B. | Permalink

Nuclear black market thriving in Eastern Europe despite efforts to stop it

MoldovaThe United States Federal Bureau of Investigation is assisting authorities in some of Europe’s poorest states in their efforts to stop criminals with Russian connections from selling radioactive material to foreign terrorist organizations. The Associated Press said earlier this month that joint efforts by the FBI and Eastern European governments have frustrated at least four attempts to sell stolen radioactive material in the black market since 2010.

In one case, which involved a criminal gang in the former Soviet Republic of Moldova, the smugglers were trying to sell radioactive material to representatives of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. The Associated Press said it spoke to law enforcement and judicial authorities in Moldova, who have set up a small team of detectives to investigate the nuclear black market. The Moldovans told the Associated Press that they were working with the FBI, and even shared some of their investigative case files with the news agency.

In another recent case, which was cracked by authorities in February of this year, a smuggler in Moldova tried to sell a significant quantity of cesium, a radioactive metal typically extracted from the waste produced by nuclear reactors. According to the Moldovans, the quantity of the fission product was “enough to contaminate several city blocks”. Additionally, the Moldovan investigators told the Associated Press that the smuggler was specifically seeking a buyer from the Islamic State.

In yet another case, a joint US-Moldovan investigation targeted Alexandr Agheenco, a mysterious Russian-born smuggler, who in the spring of 2011 said he had access to bomb-grade uranium. According to Moldovan investigators, a middleman working for Agheenco told a prospective buyer from Sudan that he would be willing to sell an unspecified quantity of uranium, as well as “blueprints for a dirty bomb”. Although the sale was prevented by the US-Moldovan investigators, Agheenco managed to escape.

According to the Moldovans, the worsening relations between Washington and Moscow are making it more difficult for investigators from the two countries to share intelligence on nuclear smuggling rings. As a result, smugglers are finding it easier to operate across Eastern Europe and parts of the former Soviet Union. Many leading black-market operatives manage to avoid capture and prosecution, while even those arrested are usually able to evade lengthy convictions, which means that they quickly return to nuclear smuggling, reports the Associated Press.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 30 October 2015 | Permalink | News tip: J.B.

Was China behind mystery raids on South African nuclear facilities?

Pelindaba Nuclear Research CenterBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
China is believed to be the culprit of a mysterious armed raid that took place at a South African nuclear facility in 2007, which has puzzled security experts for years, according to classified documents leaked to the media. The raid took place on November 8, 2007, at the Pelindaba Nuclear Research Center, located outside Johannesburg. That evening, two groups of armed assailants, later described by authorities as “technically sophisticated criminals”, skillfully deactivated numerous layers of physical security around the facility, including a 10,000-volt electrical perimeter fence. They entered the grounds of the nuclear station and fired at an off-duty night guard who saw them and tried to raise the alarm as he was leaving his post. The injured guard managed to summon a police team patrolling nearby, but by the time it arrived the assailants had managed to escape carrying with them a laptop computer stolen from the research facility’s control room. They were never caught despite an extensive investigation by South African authorities.

In the weeks following the raid, South African officials publicly dismissed the incident as the work of small-time criminals. Abdul Minty, the South African representative at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) described the raid as a “failed burglary”, while the Nuclear Energy Corporation of South Africa, which owns the Pelindaba facility, said the incident had been simply “a piece of random criminality”. One theory, which was especially popular in American media circles, was that the raid had been conducted by a terrorist group, or by an organized criminal gang employed by a terrorist group, aimed at acquiring nuclear material or designs that would enable them to build a nuclear weapon.

However, television channel Al Jazeera said recently that it had seen a copy of a secret intelligence briefing prepared by South African intelligence, in which it is stated with certainty that the 2007 raid on Pelindaba was ordered by the Chinese government. The Qatar-based news channel said the briefing related to counterespionage and was prepared in 2009. It said that the government of China had dispatched the sophisticated assailants’ team that raided the nuclear facility, and that the operation was part of an effort to steal sensitive technology that would give Beijing an advantage in building a state-of-the-art nuclear power plant as part of its Chinergy project. Chinergy is a massive collaborative effort by the Chinese government and the country’s private sector to reduce China’s reliance on coal and oil by building dozens of nuclear power plants across the country. There was no immediate comment by the Chinese and South African governments.