850 Cases of Radioactive Smuggling Averted by Russian Customs in 2007

Moscow, January 1st:

In 2007, the Russian Federal Customs Service foiled 850 attempts to move illegal radioactive materials through Russia’s borders, Interfax reports.  According to Nikolay Kravchenko, the deputy chief of the main directorate for information technology of the Service, 85 percent of the incidents involved materials coming into Russia, and 15 percent involved materials heading abroad.

“In 2007, the equipment that spots excessive radiation in luggage at customs borders went off more than 65,000 times. In 850 cases, customs officials found that goods with a high level of ionizing radiation were being illegally transported across the border of the Russian Federation,” Kravchenko told reporters.

The Customs representative spoke at length about legal shipments of radioactive materials, such as polonium-210, which is used in industrial applications.  The radioactive element was also used in connection with the poisoning murder of former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko.  Kravchenko noted that Russia was “far from the only country to export substances of this kind,” although the polonium-210 used to kill Litvinenko was traced to a Russian state facility.

The official also dismissed international concerns that Russia does not adequately track its radioactive materials.  “One hears very often that Russia does not monitor the movement of radioactive isotopes sufficiently well. And yet this is not the case. In reality, Russia is the only country in the world where declared radioactive goods are searched and checked with special equipment, so our equipment makes it possible to spot any mismatch between the actual contents of the container and what is declared on paper in the case of legal transportation of radioactive materials.”

The customs agency plans to furnish each of its inspection stations with the special machinery by 2010.