All that Glitters is Not Gold
In September a number of news outlets reported the story of three Chinese tourists who unwittingly smuggled depleted uranium from Kyrgyzstan to China thinking it was a precious metal.
The three men came across the 274kg piece of DU in a flea-market while on holiday and, attracted by its shine and sparkling appearance, haggled the price down to $2,000 before bringing it back to the city of Aksu in the West of China. It is reported they were enchanted that it glittered in the dark, and one of them kept a piece by his bedside. The men removed a small piece, ruining several saws in the process, and took it to Tsinghua University to be identified. As soon as the fragment was identified the police were called, and the men were taken to hospital for examination.
Prosecutors have decided not to prosecute the men, as they clearly were not aware of what they were doing.
Although the story has generally been treated light heartedly, it does highlight the insecurity of nuclear facilities in the ex-USSR. Most of the write-ups have focussed on the fact that the men did not have any immediate ailments when first examined by doctors, rather than considering that any ill effects will most likely only become obvious in the long term.
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Page last updated: November 6, 2008