Soviet rockets on sale in Moldovan breakoff region

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Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Nuclear symbol

Three Soviet Alazan radioactive rockets from the Cold War era are reportedly for sale in the Moldovan Republic of Transnistria.

A Sunday Times reporter went undercover through a Transnistrian secret police office. Posing as a middleman for an Algerian Islamic group, the reporter met with an arms dealer, who offered to sell three of the rockets for US$500,000 (£263,000).

The Alazan is an 82mm diameter rocket originally developed to distribute cloud-seeding chemicals such as potassium or silver iodide. With a range of eight miles, the rockets could be used to contaminate an entire city center. These rockets were part of fifty thousand tons of equipment that Soviet forces left in the republic after the Cold War.

Some were converted into improvised munitions and modified to carry explosive warheads. Others were retrofitted with a warhead reputed to contain up to 400g of radioactive caesium-137 and strontium-90, to help scientists track clouds and other meteorological events.

The arms dealer offered to allow the reporter to inspect the rockets with a Geiger counter to confirm that they contained caesium and strontium.

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