Japanese Yakuza boss charged with nuclear trafficking by the US

No, this isn't a pitch for a Godzilla sequel

A Japanese Yakuza leader is being charged with trafficking nuclear materials by US prosecutors.

The defendant, Takeshi Ebisawa, was previously charged in April 2022 with narcotics trafficking and firearms offenses but has been ordered to be detained over a conspiracy to traffic nuclear materials from Myanmar to other countries.

The materials in question included uranium and weapons-grade plutonium, according to the US Department of Justice.

As per the allegations, in early 2020, Ebisawa told undercover operatives that he had access to a large quantity of nuclear materials which he wanted to sell. Later that year, he sent photos showing samples alongside Geiger counters measuring radiation. He also forwarded pages purporting to be lab analyses indicating the presence of thorium and uranium.

And what did he want for this? Military-grade weapons, of course, if the DoJ is to be believed. The plan was to use the funds from selling the nuclear materials to work through a shopping list of weaponry, which included surface-to-air missiles, on behalf of an insurgent group in Myanmar.

An associate of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) operative posed as an Iranian General seeking material for a nuclear weapons program. "Ebisawa then offered to supply the General with 'plutonium' that would be even 'better' and more 'powerful' than uranium for this purpose," according to the Department of Justice.

During meetings with the conspirators, samples of the material in question were produced, which, according to a US nuclear forensic laboratory, contained detectable levels of uranium, thorium, and weapons-grade plutonium.

"The defendant stands accused of conspiring to sell weapons-grade nuclear material and lethal narcotics from Burma and to purchase military weaponry on behalf of an armed insurgent group," said Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department's National Security Division.

"It is chilling to imagine the consequences had these efforts succeeded and the Justice Department will hold accountable those who traffic in these materials and threaten U.S. national security and international stability."

According to a report from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), 146 incidents of illegal or unauthorized activities involving radioactive material were logged in 2022 alone, although only five had sufficient information to mark them out as related to trafficking or malicious use.

In fact, according to the IAEA, the frequency of cases involving malicious use or trafficking of nuclear material is relatively low compared to the increasing problem of scams involving non-nuclear material that was claimed to be nuclear or radioactive.

However, theft during transportation is a growing problem.

It said: "Trends from the ITDB [IAEA Incident and Trafficking Database] show that thefts occurring during the transportation of nuclear or radioactive material stand at almost 52 percent of all reported cases since 1993. The figure has reached almost 62 percent for the preceding ten-year period, highlighting the ongoing importance of strengthening transport security measures." ®

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