YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Highly-enriched uranium confiscated by the Georgian authorities from two Armenian citizens was not stolen from the Metsamor nuclear power plant or any other facility in Armenia, a senior official in Yerevan said on Tuesday.
Ashot Martirosian, the head of the State Committee on Nuclear Safety, insisted that nuclear material security in the country is “at a level corresponding to international standards.”
The two Armenian nationals, Smbat Tonoyan and Hrant Ohanian, were arrested in Tbilisi last March on charges of smuggling 18 grams (0.6 ounces) of uranium from Armenia. They allegedly tried to sell it to an undercover Georgian police agent posing as a Turkish Islamist radical. Both men reportedly pleaded guilty at their closed trial that began earlier this month.
Garik Dadayan, another Armenian man who allegedly provided the uranium sample to Tonoyan and Ohanian, was arrested by Armenia’s National Security Service (NSS) in April. The NSS said last week that he was charged under an article of the Armenian Criminal Code that deals with nuclear material smuggling.
Dadayan was already arrested by Georgian border guards in 2003 while entering the country with 200 grams of highly-enriched uranium. He was deported to Armenia and spent several months in prison there.
Russian authorities reportedly told investigators of the 2003 case that Dadayan had traveled to Georgia from Novosibirsk, Russia, which is home to a nuclear fuel manufacturing plant. According to the Georgian authorities, the uranium which he allegedly supplied to Tonoyan and Ohanian was enriched to 87 percent, high enough for use in a nuclear weapon.
“There is no such heavily enriched uranium in Armenia,” Martirosian told a news conference. “Nuclear fuel used at the Armenian nuclear plant is of three types: 1.6 percent, 2.4 percent and 3.6 percent [enriched uranium.] That is the most enriched uranium existing in Armenia.”
“All radioactive materials in Armenia, from the nuclear plant’s fuel to several micrograms of nuclear materials used by various organizations, are under the control of our agency and the International Atomic Energy Agency,” said the official.
Martirosian added that he is not even sure that the uranium seized by the Georgians was smuggled from Armenia. “Since the investigation is not yet over, we don’t know whether it passed through Armenia. Maybe didn’t pass through Armenia,” he said.
An NSS spokesman told RFE/RL’s Armenian service that the law-enforcement agency is trying to ascertain the smuggling route as part of its ongoing investigation into the case.