CHISINAU, Moldova — Seven people have been detained in Moldova on suspicion they smuggled uranium and mercury in a metal container from Russia to be used in a dirty bomb, police said Tuesday.
House searches were carried out last week in the capital and two other towns and police confiscated 200 grams (7 ounces) of uranium-238 mixed with uranium-235, a kilogram (2.2 pounds) of mercury and an unidentified radioactive solid material. The material, smuggled by train, has a black-market value of 1.6 million euros ($2 million), police chief Ion Bodrug said.
Aided by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, authorities began investigating in January and a police officer was infiltrated into the group.
Those arrested are aged 32 to 75, belong to a criminal gang and have specialized knowledge in radioactive substances, authorities said. They have admitted their guilt, Bodrug said Tuesday.
Prosecutor Vladimir Mosneaga said the uranium had been transported on the train in a metal container specially adapted to diminish the effect of radiation.
"They had experience in the past with radioactive material and had certain links with other people," Mosneaga said, without providing more details. Authorities gave no indication of the material's eventual destination.
Police are cooperating with Ukrainian and Russian police to identify other gang members.
Five people were detained in June 2011 in Chisinau suspected of smuggling radioactive substances as they were attempting to sell a kilogram of uranium for 32 million euros. The buyers were believed to be in North Africa. The suspects were convicted and handed prison sentences of three to five years.
Uranium-238 can be enriched into the fissile material of nuclear warheads or converted into plutonium, also used to arm nuclear missiles.