Avoiding Armageddon
Personal Tales

Ali Shah Khan

Ehab Yusef

Essam Alridi

Leonid Smirnov

Leroy Richmond

Milya and Gosman Kobirov


James & Robin Wong

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Leonid Smirnov - A Nuclear Thief - "I read an article on someone stealing 1200 grams of uranium… The idea flashed through my mind: other people are taking stuff from production, why can't I do the same? [I knew] that 3 percent of the recycled amount could be easily taken without any notice or suspicion." - Foiled thief of highly enriched uranium

Leonid Smirnov's dream is to save enough money to open an animal shelter. He lives with his wife Natasha and five pampered cats in a small apartment in Moscow. But dreams are difficult to achieve, especially in Russia, where high inflation and economic uncertainty make even survival difficult.

In the early 1990s with inflation spiraling out of control, Smirnov became depressed about his financial situation. Coming across a newspaper article about someone who stole uranium, he began to plot how he could benefit from his daily access to such material.

As foreman of the Podolsk Chemical Research Institute, Smirnov was in charge of inventorying and weighing uranium waste. He knew that if he patiently pilfered very small amounts his thefts would never be noticed. He was right. In four months he collected 1,538 grams of enriched uranium.

"I had no idea where to sell it," Smirnov says. "I had no customers. I had no idea on the price. I just thought of appearing at foreign firms in Moscow to discuss the deal."

Fortunately, Smirnov was caught before the uranium could reach the black market - where terrorists are actively looking for such weapons grade material. Frighteningly, until his arrest, no one at the plant ever noticed that anything was missing.

Smirnov served a mere two years for his crime. He now dreams of opening an animal shelter and shudders when he thinks of what could have happened to the material that he stole.

Leonid Smirnov's story is told in "Nuclear Nightmares: Losing Control," the second episode of "Avoiding Armageddon."

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