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Izmailovsky Park

Date of seizure: November 23, 1995
Amount of material: Celsium-137

Based on a tip she received from Chechen rebel leader Shamil Basayev, a reporter for Russia's Independent Television Channel found a hidden package containing radioactive cesium-137 buried under some leaves in Izmailovsky Park, a popular, public park located in the Northeast region of Moscow. According to the CIA, although the package weighed 32 kilograms, there was probably only a small quantity of cesium inside.
Cesium-137 is not fissile. It cannot be used to make atomic bombs. However, it is highly radioactive. It is a strong gamma emitter and is often used in medicine as a source of radiation for computer tomography equipment and in industrial fault detection equipment. However, if a radioactive material, such as cesium-137, is exploded with conventional explosives it can contaminate a large area and pose a health risk. Such a "dirty bomb" is a low-tech alternative in the arsenal of radioactive weapons.
The fact that the separatists were able to get their hands on cesium-137 at a hospital or waste dump is not surprising given the chaos in Chechnya. But the discovery of the canister in Izmailosky park does demonstrate a willingness by terrorists to use radioactive sources. Although this is the first time that the Chechen fighters had threatened to use radioactive materials against the population of Moscow, it may not be the first time that radioactive sources have been used as a weapon in Russia. There have even been reports that a mafia hit was carried out by placing a radioactive source in the chair of a Russian factory director, causing him to fall ill from repeated exposure.

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