Ukraine Arrests Lawmaker, Businessmen For Trying To Sell Plutonium

05/15/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

KIEV, Ukraine — Ukrainian security agents have arrested a regional lawmaker and two companions for trying to sell a radioactive substance that could be used in making a dirty bomb, officials said Tuesday.

The legislator in the western Ternopyl region and two local businessmen were detained last week for trying to sell 8.2 pounds (3.7 kilograms) of radioactive material to an undercover agent of the security service, said Marina Ostapenko, a spokeswoman for the service.

The suspects tried to peddle the substance as plutonium-239, a highly radioactive material that can be used to build nuclear weapons, and demanded $10 million, Ostapenko said.

But security experts later determined that the material was likely americium, a widely used radioactive material. Ostapenko said it could be used in a dirty bomb, but not nuclear weapons.

The service said in a statement it believes the material was produced in Russia during the Soviet era and smuggled into Ukraine through a neighboring country.

Ukraine renounced nuclear weapons after the Soviet Union's collapse. However, concerns remain over the existence of unsecured radioactive materials here and in other ex-Soviet republics, where safety rules are often neglected and corruption is rampant.

(This version CORRECTS that security officials say the substance was not plutonium.)