Six weeks after Sept. 11, 2001, U.S. Customs officials recovered about 137
pieces of nuclear-reactor equipment from a warehouse in Cyprus. The parts appeared
to have been destined for the Middle East. Details remain sketchy, because the
investigation has not yet been completed.
“It was a significant amount of equipment,” said Steve Baker, a
border security instructor from Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
The items were originally shipped out of Seattle, Wash. and did not contain
a Nuclear Regulatory Commission license. The shipment also violated the Atomic
Energy Act, said Baker.
According to an official with the Embassy of the Republic of Cyprus, the items
were brought to Cyprus in transit in 1995 and were labeled “power plant
equipment.” When the government discovered the shipment was intended for
a nuclear reactor, it confiscated it. Officials then attempted to sell the components
in accordance with international law.
During the same time, six packages of zirconium were imported to Cyprus under
similar circumstances. The zirconium, however, was not shipped from the United
States. Officials declined to disclose the country of origin. Cyprus authorities
also confiscated the zirconium.
The shipment of reactor components contained about 30 percent of the overall
parts necessary to construct a reactor, Baker said. However, the order did not
contain any key pieces, such as the core.
It took the U.S. government almost seven years to negotiate the release of
the equipment after initially being notified about it by Cyprus customs officials,
According to a Cypriot official, the government placed the components and the
zirconium up for auction. “The U.S. responded with detailed proposals
that were eventually accepted by the Republic of Cyprus.”
During negotiations between the United States and the Republic of Cyprus, the
equipment remained stored in a warehouse. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission
sent inspectors to take inventory of the items, said Baker.
All told, the materials filled 12 cargo containers, Baker said.
Two shipping containers of equipment remain. Those items are on display and
used in the border-guard training program at the Hazardous Materials Management
and Emergency Response (HAMMER) facility in Richland, Wash.
“We kept a wide sampling of items for training purposes,” he said.
The other 10 containers of materials were destroyed.
The discovery of zirconium led to the distribution of hand-held detectors to
Cyprus customs agents and increased assistance from U.S. officials, said Baker.
The U.S. State Department paid $250,000 in storage fees to the warehouse owner,
far less than buyers had offered the man, said Baker.
It cost the U.S. government about $60,000 to ship the materials to Richland,