Chinese tourists in Kyrgyzstan buy nuclear waste as souvenir

Monday, September 15, 2008

BEIJING, September 15 (RIA Novosti) - Three Chinese tourists have bought a 274-kg (604-lb) piece of depleted uranium and brought it home from Kyrgyzstan as a souvenir, the China Daily newspaper reported Monday.

The three tourists from the city of Aksu in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region bought "the glittering treasure" for $2,000 at a flea market in Kyrgyzstan, hoping to make money by reselling it in China.

Not knowing what they had actually bought, the tourists sliced off a piece of the stone and took it to experts from Beijing's Tsinghua University. After identifying the souvenir as a piece of depleted uranium, the scientists called the police.

Local prosecutors decided against filing charges of nuclear trafficking as the men obviously had no idea what they had bought.

The three men were taken to a local clinic for medical examination, but doctors found no signs of radiation poisoning.

Kyrgyzstan has a number of uranium disposal sites left from Soviet-era uranium mining.

Depleted uranium is a weakly radioactive by-product of uranium enrichment. A radiation dose from it would be about 60% of those of natural uranium with the same mass and because of its long half-life it has no significant detrimental health effects.

Depleted uranium is used for radiation shielding in medical radiation therapy, industrial radiography equipment, and containers for transporting radioactive materials.

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