Date of arrest: August 10, 1994
Amount of material: 560 grams of
MOX fuel (containing 363 grams of plutonium)
Justiniano Torres Benitez, and two Spaniards, Julio Oroz and Javier Bengoechea Arratibel, were arrested at the Munich airport after having flown a Lufthansa flight from Moscow carrying 560 grams of mixed-oxide (MOX) reactor fuel. MOX fuel is made up of both plutonium and uranium and this sample turned out to contain 363 grams of weapons grade plutonium.
The smugglers were nabbed as a result of a German sting operation involving the same undercover buyer as the Landshut case. The sting operation has become controversial in Germany. German intelligence has been criticized for allowing such a dangerous substance to be imported into
Germany, flown on a commercial passenger jet. In Russia, the controversy stems from the fact that they were not notified of the operation by the Germans. The Russians see the sting as a politically motivated maneuver against their country by Germans who want international atomic controls implemented in Russia.
Publicly, officials of the Ministry of Atomic Energy have denied that the plutonium seized in Munich could have come from their facilities. One official even went as far as to declare that the Germans must have flown the material into Moscow in order to have been able to fly it out.
The Germans have carried out extensive laboratory tests of the material at their nuclear institute in Karlsruhe, Germany. The slight isotopic differences caused by technical variations in the production process produce a chemical "fingerprint" of the source for any particular sample of nuclear material. The Germans know the exact make-up of the
Munich material, but because there is no international database of all the various "fingerprints" they have nothing objective to match it with.
Neither the U.S. nor Russia is willing to supply the data needed to compile such as database. Therefore, despite their strong suspicions, without Russian cooperation they can't definitively prove that the plutonium is Russian.
The Russians requested a sample of the material to do the tests themselves. After years of political and technical wrangling, a sample of the material was finally flown to Moscow in the fall of 1996. A spokesman for Minatom confirms that the sample is at the Ministry's Institute of Inorganic Materials. But the results of the Russian analysis are classified.
There is increasing circumstantial evidence that the source of the material is Russia, including a letter from the Russian Federal Security Service, the KGB's successor, asking the Germans to interrogate Torres about his contacts in the Russia. Among the Russians listed in the FSB letter is Eduard Baranov, the same man who recruited Alexander Scherbinin to smuggle the uranium to Prague.
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