U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Apprentice Joshua Nuzzo [Public domain]
A recent incident that largely went unreported in the western media is worthy of our attention, precisely because it re-iterates our long held concerns about the risks such matters can pose to humanity and which transcends the nation state and even continents. Police in Turkey’s Black Sea region seized $72 million worth of radioactive californium, which is an element that can be used in nuclear weapons technologies and also nuclear reactors.
The 18 grams of californium was seized in a car by Turkish anti-smuggling and organized crime police officers. The substance has been sent to the Turkish Atomic Energy Authority for analysis and five suspects are being investigated as a result of this seizure.
It is assumed, that intelligence agencies tipped off the police who discovered a vial of Californium after they pulled over a car in the north western Bolu province. Californium is also utilised in cancer treatments as well as oil, silver and gold mining operations. However the substance is dangerous and its production, distribution and transportation is clearly restricted. The only two nations that currently synthesize the isotope, are the US and Russia.
What is worth noting is that this is not the first time Turkish police have recovered samples of californium. In March 2018, police in Ankara seized 1.4kg located in a car following a tip-off. It was later discovered that this contained no trace of nuclear or radioactive material.
These incidents raise a number of interesting and potentially serious questions. How often are such substances being freely transported around Turkey and other nations for that matter? Who is providing the Californium, in these two cases, and what is its intended use? Why has there been so little coverage of this recent incident in western media sources?
In a broader context, the risks associated with the transportation of radioactive and other substances, should never be underestimated, as they can pose a significant risk to humanity on a localised, but large scale. We have spoken for some time about the need for international cooperation on matters pertaining to the threat of bio-terrorism, because so-called suitcase or dirty bombs, remain a viable threat. Furthermore, regulations and documentation of the handling and disposal of radioactive substances need to better coordinated and enforced.