Nuclear Smuggling

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  1. Nuclear Smuggling Black Market$0.1 Billion ($100 Million)

Nuclear Smuggling

Information and statistics about nuclear smuggling and theft of radioactive materials. Data collected from published intelligence reports, security threat alerts and other public information sources.

In May 2013, it was reported that there were an estimated 17,625 nuclear warheads in the arsenal of governments worldwide. The estimated number of warheads was down from the 19,000 at the beginning of 2012.

Russia has about 8,500 nuclear warheads in its arsenal, and the United States has 7,700. China is the only country in the world that was building up its nuclear arsenal in 2013. It was estimated that China increased its warheads by 10 in 2012, giving the country a total of about 250 nuclear warheads.

Source:  Lily Kuo, “China is the only nuclear weapon state expanding its nuclear arsenal,” Quartz, June 3, 2013.

Between 1998 and 2012, the North Korea Government is estimated to have spent between $2.8 Billion and $3.2 Billion on its missile program. The amount of money spent on the missile program would have been able to feed the entire country with corn for 3 years.

Source:  Jane Perlez, “Despite Risks, China Stays at North Korea’s Side to Keep the U.S. at Bay,” New York Times, December 13, 2012.

Between 2010 and November 2012, lawyers with the United States Department of Justice filed 8 cases against individuals and companies who were illegally trading with Iran. Prosecutors also report that more cases are being investigated but have remained sealed from the public due to its ongoing investigation.

The individual traders and companies have been based in Hong Kong and China and are illegally transporting materials in violation of international trade sanctions placed on Iran. According to the Department of Justice, materials sent to Iran include missile guidance systems, radio jammers, and materials that can be used in a nuclear weapons program.

Source:  Ken Dilanian, “Illegal exports to Iran on the rise, say U.S. officials,” Los Angeles Times, November 17, 2012.


According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, there have been 2,200 recorded attempts of smugglers attempting to steal uranium between 1995 and 2012.

In order to create a dirty bomb, at least 55 pounds of highly enriched uranium is needed.

Source:  Damien McElroy, “Terrorists ‘acquire nuclear container to smuggle uranium’,” Telegraph, October 17, 2012.

A nuclear smuggling gang in Moldova offered an undercover group of police officers 9 kilograms of highly enriched uranium for $31 Million. Around 27 kilograms of highly enriched uranium is needed to make a “dirty bomb”.

Source: Nick Amies, “US concerns over nuclear smuggling between Europe, North Africa,” Deutsche Welle, October 5, 2011.

Terrorists would need at least 25 kilograms of highly enriched uranium to make a crude nuclear device.

Source: “Nuclear Smuggling in Moldova, Not Enough Urgency in U.S.,” Nukes of Hazard blog, Center for Arms Control & Non-Proliferation, July 22, 2011.

98 to 99 percent of highly enriched uranium is stored at military stockpiles around the world where security is considered to be at a high level.

Source: “The U.S.-Russia Joint Threat Assessment on Nuclear Terrorism,” Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and the Institute for U.S. and Canadian Studies, May 2011, page 37.

A report on the threats of nuclear terrorism reported that most attempts at selling nuclear materials on the black market occurred either in former Soviet Union states or in Eastern Europe.

The report highlighted the country of Georgia for the numerous cases of nuclear trafficking. Highly enriched uranium has been seized in cases reported in 2003, 2006 and 2010.

Source: “The U.S.-Russia Joint Threat Assessment on Nuclear Terrorism,” Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and the Institute for U.S. and Canadian Studies, May 2011, page 34.

The United States spends close to $2 Billion a year on anti-nuclear smuggling proliferation activities.

The money is spent both on monitoring nuclear materials and policing the black market trade in loose nuclear weapons.

Source: Owen Matthews and Anna Nemtsova, “A New Nuclear Scare Rocks Eastern Europe,” Daily Beast, June 30, 2011.

An estimated 700 tons of highly enriched uranium is stored in Russia at over a hundred military bases, each with various levels of security.

 Source: Julian Borger, “Nuclear smuggling: Armenia arrests suspected supplier,” Guardian, November 8, 2010.