updated 9/29/2004 9:54:04 AM ET 2004-09-29T13:54:04

A man was arrested for trying to sell plutonium in an undercover investigation, the Kyrgyz security agency said Tuesday 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, agency spokeswoman Chinara Asanova said.

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 released.

Plutonium-239 is not used in Kyrgyzstan, a former Soviet republic in central Asia, Asanova said, and it was not known where it was obtained.

Rising interest in black market radioactives
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 allegedly tried to sell nearly 4 ounces of the highly toxic material cesium-137, 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 prison and Biyaliyev to two years.

Kyrgyzstan has inherited radioactive waste sites from the Soviet nuclear industry that contain 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.

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