Speculations about Nuclear Cargo Detained in Kyrgyzstan Continue

Speculations about the origin and destination of the nuclear cargo discovered on a Tajik train at the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border are continuing as IAEA has launched a formal request to the Kyrgyz government to cooperate with the investigation. RFL just published another article, in which a US expert on nuclear proliferation and terrorism talks about the properties of the radioactive substance cesium-137, and postulates that a malicious intent of smuggling is unlikely, purporting instead, that the incident is more likely to be a cause of negligence.

INTSUM: Radionuclide Cargo Intercepted at Kyrgyz-Uzbek Border

On 31 December 2007 border control officials at the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border intercepted a cargo with radiation exceeding 1000 mR/hr on a Tajik train, which originated in Kazakhstan and was heading toward Iran. The cargo’s origin itself is unknown. The train passed undetected through three border control checks before Uzbek authorities detected the dangerous cargo and derailed the train back to Kyrgyzstan. Despite the fact that the incident occurred on 31 December, no official information was released until nine days later. Eyewitnesses leaked information to 24 Hours news agency, which published a communiqué on 9 January 2008. A day later, the Central Asia service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty folowed the story with a longer exposé, confirming the incident. Kyrgyz and Uzbek officials are investigating the case.

Analysis:

While the origin of the cargo is at this point unknown, the fact that the train was bound toward Iran is unlikely to be a coincidence, given Tehran’s nuclear activities. This, in combination with local authorities failing to announce the incident for nine days, and subsequently refusing to comment, is likely to raise US and other Western countries’ concerns about Kyrgyz, and Central Asia countries’ in general, involvement in trafficking nuclear materials between former Soviet Union republics and countries in the Middle East with purported interest in acquiring such materials, as well as the latter’s alleged support for terrorism.

Source Reliability: 8

Analytic Confidence: 7