Nuclear weapon material worth $72mn seized in a car in Turkey

Turkish police have taken five people in custody over the smuggling of a highly-radioactive substance used to build nuclear weapons and power nuclear reactors. The 18.1 gram haul was found in a car.

Police discovered a vial of the valuable material after they pulled over a car in the northwestern Bolu province. The substance, believed to be californium, was found stashed under the gear shifter wrapped in a bag. Officers had to cut the upholstery to get to the parcel, which is estimated to be worth $72 million.

Five suspects were detained in the raid, and the mixture was taken to the Turkish Atomic Energy Agency (TAEK) for a detailed analysis.

Californium is named after the place where it was synthesized back in 1950 – a laboratory at the University of California. Apart from being used to manufacture nukes and nuclear-powered reactors, the element also has a range of rather innocuous civilian applications. It can be a part of metal detectors and used in cancer treatment as well as oil, silver and gold mining operations. Still, the substance is highly dangerous and its production, distribution and transportation is restricted. Currently, only the US and Russia synthesize the isotope.

It is not the first time the Turkish police reported about a major bust involving californium.

In a scare in March last year, police in Ankara said it had seized a whopping 1.4kg of the same substance in a car following a tip-off. That time, though, it turned out to be false alarm, as the haul was later found to have no trace of nuclear or radioactive material, and was, in fact, organic matter.