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3 arrested in Moldova on suspicion of trying to traffic smuggled uranium

CHISINAU, Moldova (AP) — Two former policemen and another person were arrested in Moldova on suspicion of trying to sell four pounds (nearly two kilograms) of uranium on the black market, authorities said Wednesday, although the amount was too small to be used in a nuclear warhead or a "dirty bomb."

Officials identified the material as uranium-238 and said it had a value of euro9 million ($11.35 million).

Uranium-238 can be enriched into the fissile material of nuclear warheads or converted into plutonium, also used to arm nuclear missiles. Both processes are complex and need much more of the material than the amount reported seized, which also was much too little to be used for a "dirty bomb."

Interior Ministry officials said the traffickers were trying to sell the uranium, which was kept in the garage of a former policeman, to people from unspecified countries.

U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner congratulated Moldova's government for the break up of what he called a uranium smuggling ring and said an FBI team had assisted Moldovan authorities with "technical analysis."

Moldovan authorities have sent the uranium to a German atomic center to establish the percentage of enrichment and country of origin.

The International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna declined immediate comment on the case.

"We congratulate the Moldovan Ministry of Interior for its work in thwarting what was a serious smuggling attempt," Toner told reporters in Washington. "Preventing nuclear smuggling is a priority for this administration, and the U.S. government continues to work with partners worldwide to thwart nuclear smuggling cases."

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AP writer Matt Lee contributed to this story from Washington.

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