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S.African illegal uranium trafficker granted bail

Published on 18/12/2013

A South African court granted bail Wednesday to one of two men arrested while trying to sell a kilogramme of uranium, a prosecutor said.

“Sibusiso Mkhize was given bail of 2,000 rand ($200/145 euros),” prosecution spokeswoman Natasha Ramkisson told AFP.

Lawyers for his co-accused, a Mozambican man, abandoned his bail application after it turned out that the suspect was an illegal immigrant.

The two men in their early 20s were arrested in possession of the kilogramme (2.2 pounds) of uranium while allegedly trying to sell it in the southeastern coastal city of Durban on November 14, officials said.

Investigators have since established the sample was worth only $80.

The South African Nuclear Energy Corporation (NECSA) tested the substance and confirmed that it was unenriched uranium, adding it likely came from somewhere outside Africa where enrichment is taking place.

It said the sample was harmless, refusing to speculate on the origins.

Uranium trafficking is rare, but the seizure raised fears over the illicit trade in enriched materials that could be used in dirty bombs.

According to the test results seen by AFP the uranium is 0.38 percent made up of the U-235 isotope, which is split in a fission reaction.

That level is well below the average 0.7 percent U-235 found in natural uranium and the 90 percent level needed to be considered weapons grade.

South Africa has the continent’s only nuclear power plant, but several countries have significant uranium deposits and mining activities.

The two suspects were ordered back to court on January 29.