time line
Podolsk, Russia

Date of theft: October 9, 1993
Amount of material: 1.532 kilograms of
HUE powder (90% enrichment)

smirnovLeonid Smirnov, the first known thief of weapons-grade fissile material in the world, was arrested by accident at the train station in Podolsk on his way to Moscow. He was taken in with three friends suspected of an unrelated crime. Smirnov happened to be carrying three lead containers containing over 1.5 kilograms of highly enriched uranium. Inspired by an article he read about uranium's purported street value in Komsomolskaya Pravda, he had stolen it from the Luch Scientific Production Association, where he had worked for over 25 years. Luch carries out research and development of nuclear reactors for spacecraft.
Feeling the economic pinch of Russia's run-away inflation, he saw his access to nuclear materials as an opportunity to make enough money to buy the new stove and refrigerator he needed. He was able to skim off about 50 grams of highly- enriched uranium at a time when his co-workers left the room for smoking breaks. Starting in May 1992, he carried small vials out of the plant in his pocket and collected the stolen uranium in a jar he kept on the balcony of his apartment.
The amounts he stole went undetected. Smirnov's knowledge of the accounting system allowed him repeatedly to take quantities too small to show up on Luch's records. The 1.5 kilograms he collected over a period of five months disappeared from the plant without a trace on the balance books.
He was found guilty on March 11, 1993 of stealing and storing radioactive material. He could have received up to ten years imprisonment, but was sentenced to only three years probation and now lives free in the same apartment he has lived in for decades.

[SEE SMIRNOV INTERVIEW]

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