A Russian man packs radioactive material inside a suitcase and heads to the airport, with the intent of flying to Iran for unknown reasons. He has wrapped the material in a protective coating, to limit his chances of being detached by authorities, but, with luggage in hand, he is stopped by an officer in the airport -- alleged plot thwarted, at least for now.
It sounds like the beginning of a spy novel, but that's what happened at Moscow's Sheremetyevo international airport on Friday. A man carrying 18 industrial metal items that contained radioactive Sodium-22 tried to board a plane for Tehran, Iran. The man was stopped by Federal Customs after a luggage screening.
Sodium-22 is a radioactive isotope that caused the pieces of metal -- which had been wrapped in steel panels -- to be 20 times more radioactive than normal.
After the release of the International Atomic Energy Agency's report earlier this year, which stated that Iran is developing nuclear weapons, anything involving Iran and radioactive materials has caused an alarm. That fear is made that much louder when Russia, which owns a nuclear power plant in Iran and is one of the country's closet and strongest allies, is involved.
However, radioactive Sodium-22 is mainly used for medical purposes, such as nuclear medicine imaging.
Additionally, a spokesperson for Rosatom, Russia's state-owned nuclear energy corporation, told The Associated Press that the isotope is not produced in nuclear reactors, but in particle accelerators, a contrast from customs' insinuation that the material was the result of a nuclear reactor's operations.
The official added that there was only an extremely slim chance that the material came from the agency.
According to the AP, the man has not been detained, but a criminal investigation is underway.