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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Russia questions Georgian claims of uranium smuggling

RIA Novosti

26/01/2007 09:50 MOSCOW, January 26 (RIA Novosti) - Georgia's arrest and sentencing of a Russian citizen allegedly caught selling highly-enriched uranium was "a planned information provocation," a top Russian nuclear expert 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.

"It is highly conspicuous that 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.

"I know that Russian experts visited Georgia and participated in the initial questioning of the smuggler, and also tried to determine the nature of a small amount of a substance made available by the Georgian authorities," he said, adding that the quality and the quantity of the substance had been insufficient to draw proper conclusions.

He also said that the investigation had never produced evidence that the enriched uranium, reportedly intended for sale in Georgia, had been manufactured in Russia.

"I have the impression that Georgia, with the approval of its American colleagues, have kept this information away from public, and have now decided it is the most advantageous time to release it," Cherkasenko said.

Russia and India signed on Thursday an agreement to build four reactors for the Kundankulam NPP where Russia is already constructing two 1,000-MW water-cooled reactors. But Russia will be able to start implementing the new agreement only after the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group, which controls nuclear exports and in which Russia is a member, lifts its restrictions on India.

If the restrictions are lifted, the United States will likely face strong competition from Russia for a share of a lucrative and fast-developing nuclear energy market in India.

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