Alarming trail of Armenia's nuclear ambitions - report

Alarming trail of Armenia's nuclear ambitions - report

Baku, Azerbaijan, May 10

By Aygun Badalova - Trend:

Illicit nuclear activities of Armenia have been a subject of concern of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), as well as other organizations, which presented some cases of trafficking of nuclear and other radioactive materials by Armenia in their reports.

In particular, the following examples of Armenia's illicit nuclear activities are presented in Annual statistics reports of the IAEA Incident and Trafficking Database (IDTB), Database on Nuclear Smuggling, Theft, and Orphan Radiation Sources (DSTO), reports by NTI, SIPRI, and other open media sources.

1999, May 22 - Berehovo town, Ukraine: Two Armenians trying to sell 20 kg of Low-Enriched Uranium (LEU) U-235 ore and a buyer were arrested by Ukrainian law enforcement officials in the town of Berehovo - The Armenians demanded $35,000 per kg for the Uranium. They received heavy radiation doses because they had handled the material with their bare hands and carried it in rubber bags. According to one source, the material was enriched Uranium in white powder form stolen from a radioactive-materials recycling facility in Krasnoyarsk. Other sources said it was LEU metal suitable for making fuel for RBMK reactors.

2001, December 19 - Samtskhe-Javakheti region, Georgia: 300 g of LEU were intercepted in an intelligence operation. The origin of the material was Armenia.

2003, June 26 - Armenia-Georgia border (Sadakhlo-Bagratashen checkpoint): Smuggling case 170 grams of Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) U-235 (~90%). Detected by the Georgian border guards. An Armenian "war hero" named Garik Dadayan was busted when he walked through a nuclear sensor on the Georgia-Armenia border with 170 grams of unsheathed HEU in a tea box in two batches: 70 grams and 100 grams; and in two different forms: UO2 and U3O8. Reportedly, HEU was obtained from the Novosibirsk nuclear fuel fabrication facility, Russia. HEU sample was provided to Russia; remaining HEU was transferred to the USA. Dadayan was handed over to the Armenian government, tried, and sentenced in 2004 just to 2,5 years in prison.

2003, December 29 - Megri checkpoint on the Armenian-Iranian border, Armenia: Armenian customs officials discovered a radiation source in a scrap metal shipment bound for Iran. It was reported that scrap metal was outbound from the Armenian Metsamor Nuclear Power Plant (NPP). Radioactive object discovered at the Armenian-Iranian border was an empty casing from a radioactive source, which previously contained strontium-90 (The presence of the casing for a radioactive source without the radioactive source itself would appear to imply that the source now rests at an unknown location without the protective barriers necessary to avoid injury to the public). Spectral analysis showed that the object has a high radioactivity level.

2004, March 13 - Armenia-Georgia border (Sadakhlo-Bagratashen checkpoint): Armenian citizen with radioactive material detained. The report did not identify the radioactive material.

2007, October 24 - Georgia-Turkey border (Sarpi checkpoint): Georgian police officers and operatives from the Special Operations Center of the Main Directorate of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia for the Autonomous Republic of Adjara arrested 4 Armenian citizen for attempting to smuggle 2.04g of Lawrencium-103 in a specifically designed gold container.

2009 August 26-28 - Armenia-Georgia border (Sadakhlo-Bagratashen checkpoint): The vehicle belonged to a resident of Noratus village of Gegharkunik region, Armenia, carrying three Armenian citizens entered Georgia from Armenia at the Sadakhlo border crossing. The car set off a gamma alarm on the radiation detection portal monitor. The driver provided a cursory explanation for the alarm, and the patrol police did not detain the group. On August 27, the same car returned to Armenia through the Sadakhlo crossing, and again set off a gamma alarm. At this point, the patrol police stopped and searched the vehicle. Georgian officials determined that the car was contaminated with Cesium-137. However, because the search did not produce any radioactive material, the occupants were released and returned to Armenia.

2010 March - Tbilisi, Georgia: Two Armenian, Businessman Smbat Tonoyan and Physicist of the Yerevan Institute of Physics Hrant Ohanyan were arrested by Georgian authorities in the hotel room, with 18 grams of 89% HEU brought from Armenia into Georgian territory. Two had concealed the material in a lead lined Marlboro cigarette package before boarding a train from Yerevan to Tbilisi. During the trial in Tbilisi, it was revealed that Tonoyan had demanded $8 million from a prospective buyer for 120 grams of the enriched uranium, but later dropped the asking price to $1.5 million. 18 grams would be shown to the buyer as a sample of the product in their possession. Smbat Tonoyan's son Samvel Tonoyan, was a member of the Special Investigative Service of the Republic of Armenia. Interestingly, the seized HEU was provided to the smugglers by the same Armenian national, Garik Dadayan who was arrested in possession of the first sample of HEU intercepted in Georgia in 2003. Having served a relatively light prison sentence of 2.5 years, he resurfaced again in 2010 as a supplier of the same material.

2010, September 16 - Tbilisi Airport, Georgia: Three persons were arrested at Tbilisi airport for attempting to sell a small quantity of mixed powder containing about 0.0004 kg of Plutonium (Pu) and 0.00008 kg of LEU. The individuals said they had brought the Uranium and Pu from the Russian Federation and Ukraine to sell it. One member of the group was from Armenia.

2014 August - Armenia-Georgia border (Sadakhlo-Bagratashen checkpoint): Georgian authorities arrested two Armenians trying to smuggle Cesium 137 into Georgia.

2016 January - Armenia-Georgia border (Sadakhlo-Bagratashen checkpoint): Georgian authorities arrested three Armenians, also for trying to sneak Cesium 137 across the border.

2016 mid-April - Georgia's State Security Service detained three citizens of Armenia and three citizens of Georgia with trying to sell $200 million worth of Uranium-238 that was found in the home of one of the Georgians. The prefabricated transportation containers full of uranium were found in one of the detainee's apartment, he further said without disclosing the precise amount of the radioactive material. It is also known that the group of 3 Armenian citizens, previously worked in Metsamor NPP. One of the detainees was identified as a former associate of the Armenian secret service. This group planned to sell Uranium-238 to the Middle East region.

Repeated seizures at the Armenia-Georgia border and the unusually high number of Armenian nationals implicated in nuclear trafficking cases provide sufficient evidence to confirm the existence of the Armenian route. Some of these cases involved seizures of of weapons-usable nuclear material. Radioactive sources could be also used for malicious purposes, for example in a radiological dispersal device or "dirty bomb."

Uncontrolled radioactive sources also have the potential to harm human health or the environment. Unlawfully discarded or disposed of radioactive sources, when melted at scrap metal recycle plants, may lead to severe environmental and economic related consequences.

Sources: Annual statistics reports of the IAEA Incident and Trafficking Database (IDTB), Database on Nuclear Smuggling, Theft, and Orphan Radiation Sources (DSTO), reports by NTI, SIPRI, and other open media sources.

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