Russian authorities planned and practically already agreed with the Abkhazian regime of Sergei Bagapsh an issue of bringing in radioactive waste from Russia and its placement in waste burial places of the Sukhumi Physical-Technical Institute. A similar attempt was undertaken in the period of Ardzinba leadership, but due to opposition from Georgian authorities who were supported by international organizations, Moscow abandoned its intentions. Now Russian side is confident that transfer of radioactive waste into Abkhazia – taking into account recognition of its independence by Russia - would not be problematic. But, just in case, this plan is kept secret and no one, including Georgia, will not be able to provide evidence of import of radioactive waste into the occupied region.
We learned about this plan from a source who has an access to secret materials and who trusts Levan Kiknadze. In October 2009 this person – despite difficulty of this step - sent an email to the president of the Club of Experts Levan Kiknadze in which he informed about a fact of prevention of removal of uranium-235 from Abkhazia – uranium that was stolen from the burial place of radioactive substances of SPTI after the end of the war actions of 1992-1993, as well as a fact of concealment of this fact by Russian FSB.
The letter was accompanied by a photograph of the container - so-called "pig" where the Uranium was stored. "Pig" was ready to be shipped, however this plan failed. As our source informed security services removed the container with the uranium from the basement of an abandoned house that was abandoned by a Georgian family after the 1992-1993 war. A particular concern of our source was raised by the fact that "pig" disappeared without trace, and that not only no actions were brought on this fact but - with involvement of Russian FSB - even primary information was destroyed.
Our respondent was confident that the mentioned "pig" contained enriched uranium-235 that was lost in the nineties, several years after the end of the war in Abkhazia and it "disappeared" without trace for this reason. He requested to give this information to international organizations that are working on problems of radioactive substances hoping for appropriate response. He also considered it necessary to spread information about this fact through the media. He believes that a lot of radioactive substances are still left in Abkhazia that at the time were stolen from SFTI, removal and selling of which failed for certain reasons. Despite our attempts, all this failed to become a subject of extensive discussion.
A new, extremely dangerous plan to turn Abkhazia into dump for radioactive waste, implementation of which threatens the region with an environmental disaster, is no less dangerous, if hazardous substances are to fall into hands of terrorists. And the fact that the separatists have a well established routine of removal and sale of radioactive substances is well evidenced by several facts cited in the received letter as well by facts that are available to us.
Let's start from the beginning. Among German prisoners who were brought to Sukhumi after the Second World War for enriching uranium at local Physical-Technical Institute, were such well-known scientists as Manfred von Ardenne, Heinz Barvich, a Nobel laureate Gustav Ludwig Hertz, etc. They worked in the SPTI until 1952. And since its establishment the above mentioned institute was actively involved in development of latest defense technologies of the Soviet Union. SFTI objects located in Agudzera and Sinop belonged to the category of special regime - that is why research and experiments conducted in their laboratories were highly secretive.
The most noteworthy from all military orders that SFTI was working on was work on creation of nuclear weapons that was conducted in top-secret laboratories of the Research Center of the Institute. For these and other purposes up to 30 types of radioactive and other substances of strategic importance were used: 96 % enriched uranium-235, uranium-238, plutonium, cesium-137, polonium, strontium-90, radium-226, yttrium-90, cadmium - 109, bismuth-207, etc. These substances were stored in special storage in Agudzera and Sinop.
During the war in Abkhazia territories of the institute were in real danger of being bombed or shelled, which could have caused leakage of radioactive substances that were present at the site and, respectively, an environmental catastrophe. In the spring of 1993, at the initiative of the state security service of the Abkhazian Autonomous Republic, an inventory of these substances was carried out (all radioactive substances, including enriched uranium, cesium in large quantities, etc. were ascertained) and they were placed in a specially reinforced storage. As situation was deteriorating around Sukhumi, on demand of security services and by decision of the management of SFTI, remaining radioactive substances were concentrated in Sinop storage and control over it was transferred to the head of the control regime of SFTI Viktor Zaitsev. An act was also drawn up on this fact.
We should note here that after the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant and its emissions very strong zone of radioactive contamination were noted in some regions of Abkhazia (New Athos, Picunda). Then this information was kept secret. A commission was established, in order to eliminate contamination. This commission consisted of experts of SFTI. A layer of radioactive soil was removed in these places. Later it was placed in a burial place situated in Agurdzera zone of Sukhumi Physical-Technical Institute. From there, it had to be taken to Russia but at that time this plan was not realized.
In an uncontrollable situation of the period after the war of 1992-1993 removal of radioactive substances from the burial grounds of the Institute was started. This was done by the head of the control regime of SFTI Zaitsev with the assistance of KGB officer G. Bazba and head of the warehouse of nuclear substances Tatiana Tarkil, as well as close relatives of Vladislav Ardzinba - Levan and Aka Ardzinba, head of the security service of V. Ardzinba - Valmer Butba, and one of the commanders of the Abkhazian Guard, currently a member of the Abkhazian Parliament Pavel Leshchuk. Radioactive substances that were placed in special containers were shipped, mainly from the ports of Sukhumi and Ochamchire, as well as through Sochi and Zugdidi.
On May 21st, 1997 a part of containers stolen from SFTI was moved to Batumi with plans of further realization. In 1998, refugee from Abkhazia Zurab Gurgulia was arrested in Zugdidi when attempting to sell radioactive cesium. He admitted that the substance that was stolen from SPTI was handed to him by Valmer Butba, commander of the detachment of Abkhazian separatists stationed in Gali.
After the war the unit of Abkhazian state security intelligence that was operating in Tbilisi, obtained operational information concerning facts of theft of radioactive substances from burial places of SFTI, on the basis of which the Georgian side had repeatedly and officially appealed to the leadership of Russia to form a competent commission, which, together with Georgian specialists would have examined this issue. Four years later, at last, a delegation of the Ministry of Atomic Energy of Russia visited Sukhumi. Of course, Georgian experts were not admitted into working group.
The delegation had found neither uranium nor other radioactive substances in the burial place. The question as to when and for what purpose the substances had been removed was left unanswered. However, it was the first time in the world when disappearance of 655 grams of up to 90-96 % enriched uranium-235 was confirmed and that fact drew a wide international response. Experts working on issues of non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, found it possible that these missing substances might be used for creation of the most dangerous nuclear weapons.
Reporter of The Times, who flew to Sukhumi on the helicopter of the UN mission to study this issue, was not admitted to the burial ground of SFTI. A delegation of IAEA which arrived in Sukhumi in 2001 to conduct a full investigation into the fact of loss of weapons-grade uranium was also denied access.
"As we know, this is the first case in the world when substance suitable for creation nuclear weapons is lost", - told the Times William Potter, Director of the (James martin) Research Center for Nonproliferation Studies of Monterey Institute of International Studies (USA, California). According to him, terrorists will have to get plenty more of the same quantity of uranium, which had been lost in Abkhazia in order to make an atomic bomb, but the missing quantity of the substance is sufficient to create a rough but effective "dirty bomb".
In early November of 2002, specialists of the Moscow Scientific-Industrial Association "Rodon" (Chief technologist - A. Volkov, chief engineer of the Center for Radiation and Environmental Safety - B. Letemin) together with employees of SFTI carried out works on localization of radioactive substances. According to A. Volkov, they cleared a few points of radiation in Sukhumi, but he felt it necessary to continue work on complete localization of radiation centres. According to him again, Moscow planned to carry out works on locating radiation centres on the territory of Abkhazia and finance work to eliminate them. Then it had to be carried out within the framework of intergovernmental co-operation between Russia and Georgia, but it has not been realized.