Kyrgyz Arrest Man Selling Plutonium

The Kyrgyz security agency said Tuesday it had arrested a man trying to sell plutonium in a sting operation, amid rising worries of a growing black market trade in radioactive materials.

National Security Service agents posing as buyers arrested the man on Sept. 21 after confirming that he was in possession of plutonium-239, said agency spokeswoman Chinara Asanova.

Asanova did not say how much of the radioactive material — which can be used in atomic weapons and as a reactor fuel — was confiscated. But she said it was held in 60 small containers.

The suspect's identity was not immediately released.

Plutonium-239 (search) is not used in Kyrgyzstan, Asanova said, and it was not known from where it was obtained.

The National Security Agency is concerned about rising interest in radioactive materials in the black market, she said.

Earlier this year, it arrested Arzykul Usupov, 49, who tried to sell 110 grams (3.88 ounces) of the highly toxic material cesium-137 (search), which could contaminate large areas if used as part of a "dirty bomb," Asanova said.

Another man, Atamyrza Biyaliyev, 48, was arrested for alleged cooperation with Usupov.

The two were looking for foreign buyers, apparently after finding out that terrorist organizations might be interested in such material, Asanova said.

In July, Usupov was sentenced to five years in jail and Biyaliyev to two years.

Kyrgyzstan (search) has inherited radioactive waste sites from the Soviet nuclear industry that contain 170,000 cubic meters (6,002,824 cubic feet) of radioactive uranium waste. The sites are poorly secured and also pose a threat to the region's drinking water reservoirs.