Dec. 16 (Bloomberg) -- Russian customs officials at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport stopped an Iranian citizen who was trying to board a flight to Tehran with luggage containing a radioactive substance used for medical purposes.
The young man was stopped at the airport in mid-November because his luggage was found to contain substances exceeding the natural background radiation level 20-fold, Ksenia Grebenkina, a spokeswoman for the airport’s customs office, said by telephone today. Further study found the substance was sodium-22 and a criminal case was opened, she said.
“At the time when he was checked, there was an elevated radiation level, but an analysis had to be conducted,” Grebenkina said. “There wasn’t enough evidence to open a criminal case, so there were no grounds to hold the young man.”
Russian leaders oppose new sanctions on the Persian Gulf state, which was seeking to develop atomic weapons until at least last year, according to the United Nations nuclear watchdog. President Dmitry Medvedev today reiterated Russia’s opposition to unilateral sanctions against Iran, saying they are “counterproductive.”
Customs officers found “18 industrially produced metal items individually wrapped in steel containers” in the passenger’s luggage, the Federal Customs Service said on its website earlier today. Sodium-22 doesn’t occur naturally and must be produced in cyclotron facilities, according to the customs service.
A man who answered the phone at Iran’s embassy in Moscow said the press service had already left.
There are between 600 and 800 seizures of radioactive substances each year in Russia, either of contaminated materials or items that weren’t properly declared, Elena Sokova, executive director at the Vienna-based Center for Disarmament Non-Proliferation, said by phone today. “It just raises flags because it’s Iran,” she said.
Iran denies accusations by the U.S. and its European allies that its civilian nuclear program is a cover for building warheads, saying the activity is needed to produce electricity. Russia built Iran’s first nuclear power station, located in the southern port city of Bushehr, which started generating electricity in September.
“The radioactive isotope itself is something that is used for medical purposes, in tomography machines,” Sokova said. “It’s not something that is suitable for a military program.”
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