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China Holds Ethnic Koreans for Attempted Uranium Sale
Chinese police last month arrested two men on charges of trying to sell 1 kg of enriched uranium, an essential raw material for nuclear weapons, press reports said Monday. The two were ethnic Koreans living in China, police in Beijing confirmed. Press reports said Beijing police arrested the two men, identified as Chang and Chung, on charges of attempting to sell 969.03 grams of enriched uranium at a hotel there on Sept. 11.
Beijing police said initial investigations found the enriched uranium probably came from Russia, but sources there say the possibility that it came from North Korea can’t be ruled out. One source said a considerable number of ethnic Koreans in China are involved in smuggling with North Korea. “I actually met someone in a Chinese border town who asked me to find a buyer for the material and told me, ‘I have enriched uranium smuggled from North Korea.’”
Uranium naturally occurs in two isotopes: U-238 (99.3 percent), and U-235 (0.7 percent). When the latter is enriched at 3-4 percent purity, it can be used for nuclear power plants, and with more than 90 percent purity, it becomes a raw material for nuclear weapons. It is not known at what purity the seized uranium was enriched. Some 15-17 kg are needed to produce nuclear weapons, but the seized amount was less than 1 kg. When U.S. envoy James Kelly visited Pyongyang in 2002, the North allegedly admitted to having its own highly enriched uranium program.