Police confiscate radioactive material

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Police confiscate radioactive material

With security issues at the forefront because of the G-20 Summit next week, the arrest of two Vietnamese men on allegations of smuggling radioactive material into the country has added to security concerns.

The Gyeonggi Provincial Police Agency yesterday said a 33-year-old Vietnamese man identified as “E” was arrested, and another Vietnamese man faces possible charges of smuggling radioactive material into Korea for illegal gambling.

Police found the men and the radioactive material while investigating a gambling ring that had rented out a farm in Siheung, Gyeonggi, last month. The men were found to be in possession of 12 pieces of radioactive material measuring 3 millimeters (0.12 inches) in diameter and 0.2 millimeters in thickness that had been smuggled into the country in carry-on bags through Incheon International Airport, according to E’s testimony.

The radioactive material was to be slipped into small gambling chips made of paper used in a Vietnamese guessing game. The chips’ two sides are painted in different colors. E and other gamblers planned to cheat in the game by using a Geiger counter to determine which side of the chips would be facing up by reading the differences in radiation amounts.

The pieces were found to emit beta particles, or beta rays, that can be used to make dirty bombs, which are made with radioactive materials and conventional explosives. Although long-term exposure to large amounts of beta rays can result in burns and vomiting, Gyeonggi police and nuclear experts said the radioactive material seized was a very small amount and not dangerous to humans.

The seized material is being held at the Korea Institute for Nuclear Safety, where final test results to determine their properties are expected to be released next week. “You would need tens of thousands times more than the seized amount to create a dirty bomb,” said Kwon Jeong-wan at the institute.

Gyeonggi police are looking into whether additional radioactive material could have been brought in to other gambling rings.

“We do not know how much has been smuggled into the country,” said Son Jeong-il, Gyeonggi police’s chief superintendent of the international crime investigation team. “The seized amount is very small, which immigration officials at the airport could not have picked up.”

Gates to detect radioactivity are to be set up near the G-20 Summit site.

By Christine Kim, Yoo Kil-yong [christine.kim@joongang.co.kr]
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