VICTOR Lustig was a very smart guy. He once sold the Eifel Tower to Monsieur Poisson, a scrap dealer, claiming to be the owner of the most famous tourist attraction of Paris. When Poisson realised that he had been cheated, he was too embarrassed to inform the police. Lustig was lucky. He tried to do it again but luck didn't favour him this time. It was reported to the police. Lustig landed in jail and died there.
It is not known if anyone ever tried to sell the Ahsan Manzil of Dhaka but eleven smart persons were trying to sell what they claimed to be imported uranium. They are in police custody now. They used to show a video footage of the product to prospective buyers against a deposit of Tk 50,000, while for inspection of the goods, they would take 'security money' of Tk 50 lac. The price of the product was claimed to be Tk 50 crore.
To prove the genuineness of the product, the accused persons used a metal container, protective gloves and supposedly a radiation monitor. They also had a leaflet in English and Russian, cleverly linking the material with the current deal on the Rooppur Nuclear Power Project. Police sent the recovered material to the Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission for testing. The test results are not known as yet.
The material appears to be white in colour. Uranium is not white in any form. Uranium ore is either grey or yellowish. Natural uranium is sold in the form of a yellow powder, called yellowcake. It is enriched in the form of hexafluoride, a silvery gas. Uranium dioxide or carbide is black. Uranium metal is grey or silvery. The recovered material is, therefore, unlikely to be uranium.
Enriched uranium is a highly secured item and is under safeguards by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). It is not available in the open market. Several international protocols need to be signed to procure enriched uranium. A nuclear power reactor requires 80-100 tonnes of 3-5% enriched uranium. An atom bomb requires several kilogrammes of 'highly enriched' uranium. Few pounds of natural uranium have no practical uses.
Pieces of uranium ore are sold online as collector's items at $5 to $10 per piece. Currently, yellowcake is sold at about $31/lb. The price of the recovered material could not be more than few thousand taka even if it was natural uranium.
The eleven people in custody must have realised like Lustig that smartness does not always pay, particularly while dealing with fake products.
The writer is a former chief engineer of Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission.