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Friday, January 26, 2007

Russia cannot identify origin of uranium seized in Georgia

MOSCOW, January 26 (RIA Novosti) - Russian experts are unable to establish the origin of highly-enriched uranium that was allegedly seized from a Russian national in Georgia, as an inadequate sample was provided by Tbilisi, a specialist said Friday.

A Georgian court sentenced Oleg Khinsagov, from the Russian North Caucasus republic of North Ossetia, to eight years in prison Thursday for attempting to sell 100 grams of HEU, according to the Georgian Interior Ministry.

"About a year ago, our institute received an insignificant sample from Georgia. It was established that the material was regenerated highly-enriched uranium," said Igor Skabura, deputy director of the Russian Scientific Research Institute of Non-Organic Materials.

He said the amount was insufficient for a comprehensive analysis, and that the institute had asked for an additional sample of material, but had received no response from the Georgian side.

"We were therefore unable to establish either its origin, or the regeneration method used," he said.

Georgian authorities said they had withheld information as the investigation sought to identify other suspects involved in the case, but that Georgia was cooperating with Russia and had sent samples of the enriched uranium for verification and testing.

Three Georgian citizens in the case were also convicted and sentenced to between four and six years in prison.

Another Russian nuclear expert said Georgia's arrest and sentencing of the Russian national was "a planned information provocation."

"Georgia and the U.S. nuclear officials who have been investigating this incident for over a year decided to make this information public at the start of the Russian president's visit to India, at a time when the two countries planned to sign a memorandum on the construction of four additional reactors for a nuclear power plant in India," said Andrei Cherkasenko, board chairman of AtomPromResursy, a manufacturer of equipment for the nuclear power industry.

Cherkasenko said Georgia had not informed the International Atomic Energy Agency (the UN's nuclear watchdog) about the incident, and denied Georgia's allegations that Russian experts had refused to cooperate in the investigation.

He also said that the investigation had never produced evidence that the enriched uranium had been manufactured in Russia.
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