BEIJING (Reuters) - Three Chinese men have been spared jail after they smuggled a ball of depleted uranium into the country, ignorant the 274-kg (604 lb) shiny lump was a health threat, local media reported.
The three scrap merchants bought the ball of low-radiation uranium metal in Kyrgyzstan last year, haggling a dealer down to a price of $2,000 (1,136 pounds), the official news website of China’s far northwest Xinjiang region (www.tianshan.com) reported.
They smuggled it into China, evading customs checks but apparently ignorant the interesting metal could be dangerous. One of them hid it in his father-in-law’s home in Xinjiang.
“They were surprised that at night when the lights went out the treasure sparkled and glittered, and Wang chipped a piece from it and kept it beside his bed, sometimes playing with it,” the report said of one of the men.
Twice as dense as lead, depleted uranium is the substance left after the more highly radioactive parts are extracted. It is used in armour-piercing ammunition.
Contact with the skin is usually not harmful, but it can damage kidneys, lungs and other organs if it enters the body.
Determined to make a dollar from their find, the men decided to have the ball priced by an expert and Wang took a piece thousands of kilometres (miles) to Beijing.
“To prevent the sample being lost or stolen on the way, Wang used tape to stick the unidentified treasure to his body, and it never left him day and night,” the report said.
But the three traders’ hopes for riches evaporated after an expert identified the substance as degraded uranium, and the men were arrested on suspicion of smuggling.
Last month, a prosecutor decided not to charge the men, accepting their argument that they did not know what they had smuggled.
To date, the three had shown no “physical abnormalities,” the report said.
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