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The Military Technology

Buying Goods To Make Nuclear Weapons On eBay, Alibaba, and Other Platforms 260

Lasrick (2629253) writes The blossoming of online Internet-trading platforms has at least one downside: insufficient inspectors and product controls when it comes to goods relevant to nuclear proliferation. "On Alibaba (and other platforms), one can purchase many of the specialized items needed for the manufacture of nuclear weapons. A short list of items advertised for sale on the site include metals suitable for centrifuge manufacturing, gauges and pumps for centrifuge cascades for uranium enrichment, metallurgical casting equipment suitable for making nuclear weapon 'pits,' and high-speed cameras suitable for use in nuclear weapon diagnostic tests. A company on an Alibaba-owned Chinese Internet-trading platform even posted an ad for the sale of the rare metal gallium, which the seller trumpeted could be used to stabilize plutonium." Although many companies have strict compliance procedures in place to help avoid proliferation, many do not. There are several procedures these platforms can put into place to minimize risk, and both national (and international) regulators have a role to play, as well as shareholders.
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Buying Goods To Make Nuclear Weapons On eBay, Alibaba, and Other Platforms

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  • by pooh666 ( 624584 ) on Sunday November 02, 2014 @02:39PM (#48294949)
    Why no booms?
    • ICBM, UCBM, we all see... ewwww gross.
    • Why no booms?

      Boom! []
      Boom!! []
      Boom!!! []

      • Oh so North Korea bought their stuff from Alibaba and eBay?

      • wrong, none of those countries had a secret program put together by means mentioned in article on shoestring budget. All of them had a public program put together by very well known and traceable means and materials, with huge facilities, costing 3 billion USD (for N. Korea) and up.

        You have no point

    • No boom today, boom tomorrow, there's always boom tomorrow.


  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 02, 2014 @02:40PM (#48294959)

    NOT making nuclear weapons...

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by cyrano.mac ( 916276 )

      And meanwhile, an Australian can't sell for instance a Dutch (Philips) made photomultiplier tube on ebay. I can 't get some FET transistors from TI they told me, because they couldn't really identify me. Strangely enough, the next day the FET's were in the mail...

      Oh, well, next time i'll buy Chinese, German, Dutch or Japanese. But not from an American company.

      And which country has the most problems with weaponry, by far?

    • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Sunday November 02, 2014 @03:58PM (#48295545)

      This. A billion times this.

      You have NO idea what I went through last time buying some chemicals for my PCB work. It seems that buying HCl, H2O2, Isopropyl alcohol and Acetone was kinda asking for it, but I honestly didn't know. Well, now I do. And I got a new door, too...

      And yes, those things are used exactly for what I said. HCl and H2O2 for etching, Acetone for cleaning the PCB of photoresist and the alcohol to dissolve the soldering flux.

      But now I know what else you can do with that crap. Thanks law enforcement, I wouldn't even have thought about that!

      • At least in my part of the world you can buy all that stuff for cash at Home Depot. You don't need really high concentration H2O2 or HCl for PCB etching, the pool chemicals work fine.

      • Over at Sciencemadness we had several members telling their stories of law enforcement encounters. Not all were completely unpleasant, actually.

        In another post you mentioned that you were in Europe. Not every European country (not even every EU country) has the same rules regarding chemical purchase. Portugal is rather relaxes, and here in Finland at least sulfuric acid ("battery acid") and H2O2 are relatively easy to purchase.

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) *

      Yep. It's just another anti-China story. Look how bad Alibaba and all those Chinese eBay sellers are, helping terrorists build their nuclear bombs.

  • by 50000BTU_barbecue ( 588132 ) on Sunday November 02, 2014 @02:42PM (#48294975) Journal

    the food eaten by the people working on making nuclear bombs is an item that can lead to proliferation. This is just scare-mongering to increase inspection of incoming parcels... so the government can charge import duties and taxes.

    Oh, and we're protecting you from people who build nuclear bombs in their garage, yup.

    What nonsense.

  • Why? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Etherwalk ( 681268 ) on Sunday November 02, 2014 @02:44PM (#48294991)

    Why stop it?

    Getting the government involved in regulating the site to preemptively prevent these transactions is stupid. Instead there should be a streamlined process for getting a warrant, and then you go after people who purchase the material. While mailing them a large cache of something that looks like the product but isn't and that has a locator.

    If you ban the sale altogether you just push it underground. If you use it to gather data you have actionable intelligence.

    • All these items have uses besides building a nuclear weapon.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      "Getting the government involved [...] is stupid"...


      "process for getting a warrant"

      Eh what? From a private corporation I guess?

      "then you go after people who purchase the material"

      Who "you"? You and the horsemen of the free market????

      • The GP basically described an FBI investigation.

        Except, the FBI exists in a world where we ban the unregulated sale of things like anthrax, plastic explosives, rocket launchers, children, dual purpose precursor chemicals, radioisotopes, and a million other things.

  • Gallium Rare? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Gallium is used a lot in semiconductor manufacture and I'm pretty sure it's not that hard to get.
    Hell, a Google search for "pure gallium" has pulled up quite a few prospects.

    You'd have a much harder time getting a hold of the plutonium.

  • by swschrad ( 312009 ) on Sunday November 02, 2014 @02:50PM (#48295023) Homepage Journal

    problem is, almost everything has the potential for dual-use. thorium for tube filaments for audiophools and ham radio power tubes. plutonium for.... yeah, that's it, degradation deep-space power modules, right. there might be room for a law to allow the customs boys to bring you questionable materials, and inspect the delivery address... .

  • It is the only way we will ever be safe.

  • by M0HCN ( 2981905 ) on Sunday November 02, 2014 @02:58PM (#48295085)

    Well yea Gallium can be used to stabilise Pu, it is after all a potent neutron absorber....
    This is not a metal you want anywhere near your fissile core.

    Kind of cool stuff however, it melts right around body heat, so amusing to play with, but as a nuclear material its major use is preventing big piles of corium from accidents from going critical.

    An interesting obsevation about the black market as applied to nuclear matters: If I have some Pu for sale I stand about an 80% chance that any given attempt to close a deal will result in a swat team and men from the intellegence services wanting a word.
    The same thing applies if I am a buyer, no effective market can exist under these conditions.
    However, given that presumably everyones intel agencies run stings of both types the result must surely be that much of the time you get two intellegence agencies swatting each other....

    Now the ready availibility of copper vapour lasers and narrow line width dyes, that might actually be a worry (There is approximately a 0.5nm difference in the photon energy required to ionise U235 compared to U238 as a hexafloride, this is explotable at least in experimental plants), 1950s tech not so much (There are probably easier ways to get there these days).

    Regards, Dan.

    • That's the thing, gallium is not that exotic and has recreational uses. Casting equipment?! A staggering range of uses for thousands of years.

      BTW "stabilize" is in the metallurgical sense. If the open literature is correct, and I hope it is full of booby traps for bomb makers, plutonium is less of a nightmare to put into controlled shapes if alloyed with gallium.

      • by M0HCN ( 2981905 )

        Suggesting a potent neutron poison as a component of the alloy strikes me as being a fairly obvious one of those traps, the critical mass for a spherical PU assembly is also quoted differently in different literature (I have not bothered doing the maths to figure out which one is correct for a non reflector based design), but it is pretty much highschool level sums.

        Now getting the tamper design right and manufacturing sufficiently homoginous compression charges, not often discussed in the civil literature.


  • by LoRdTAW ( 99712 )

    So Chinese manufactures sell materials that could be used to make nuclear bombs and it goes unchecked. Are we supposed to be surprised or scared into giving up more liberties in the name of a false sense of security?

  • by quenda ( 644621 ) on Sunday November 02, 2014 @03:01PM (#48295115)

    Millions of uranium centrifuge parts sold openly: []

    Somebody call Colin Powell!

    • It's not like Homer Simpson can build an uranium centrifuge to military grade as a hobby week-end project.
      • by Cito ( 1725214 )

        Boy Scouts can :-P []


        A Scout in the Boy Scouts of America, Hahn conducted his experiments in secret in a backyard shed at his mother's house in Commerce Township, Michigan. While his reactor never reached critical mass, Hahn attracted the attention of local police when he was stopped on another matter and they found material in his vehicle that troubled them and he warned that it was radioactive. His mother's property was cleaned up by the Environmental Protection Agency

        • "Radioactive Boy Scout" only succeeded in perhaps giving himself a dose of radiation about half of max allowed nuke plant worker for a year. Do you know how much americium it takes to make a spherical critical configuration? Over 100 lbs., and so extracting a third of a microgram from each of a pile of smoke detectors isn't really taking steps toward that goal.....

          • by Cito ( 1725214 )

            He radiated 5 blocks the breeder got out of control.
            He fucked himself up go see photo of his face now

            He used radium from antique clocks found a vial of radium in a clock he also had a neutron gun from beryllium and he used to start the reactor, and over days it got hotter and before it got critical he dismantled and panicked.

            The government labeled his house a Superfund cleanup site.

            But it was enough to build dirty bomb. If he would have taken the radiated source and ground it down and sprayed over a salad b

  • time to background check people who buy golf balls and have TSA at driving rage.

  • by physicsphairy ( 720718 ) on Sunday November 02, 2014 @03:11PM (#48295183) Homepage

    The technology to actually manufacture nuclear weapons is starting to close in on a century old. What prohibits their manufacture is ultimately a combination of international pressure, expense, and engineering difficulty. If your country doesn't have a bullet train then it probably doesn't have nuclear weapons for much the same reason or else because it has specifically chosen not to manufacture them (the fact any money from western nations would quickly evaporate makes a strong incentive). If you're going to worry about people getting hold of galium and high speed cameras, you're just being ridiculous. Anyone who could even have a shot at building a nuclear weapon also has enough resources to easily obtain those sorts of items, no matter what international restrictions are applied.

    • Actually I think having bullet trains and having nuclear weapons are anticorrelated.

    • By the time the weapons are 100 years old (at least by the 2050's) most of the required componentry will be child's play. A little textbook physics (because most of what you need is in the textbooks) and even a private citizen would be able to build one. Only thing stopping anyone would be access to the explosives to make the shaped charges and access to the fuel(s).
  • by janoc ( 699997 ) on Sunday November 02, 2014 @03:14PM (#48295197)

    Sorry, this is pretty much BS scaremongering.

    Buying a piece of metal that could be made into a centrifuge doesn't mean that you will actually succeed to make one. There is a lot of specialized equipment needed for that which is tightly controlled (try to export a high precision CNC machine, for example!).

    Most of this gear has lots of legitimate uses as well. Not to mention that if someone really wanted to obtain this sort of gear, I cannot imagine them shopping for it on Alibaba or eBay - they would be spending a ton of money for a product of unknown quality possibly from a mom&pop shop somewhere in China that sells everything from rubber bands, dresses up to car accessories, that is assuming it isn't a scam in the first place. There are better ways of obtaining it - e.g. through shell companies abroad acting as middlemen to avoid embargoes or from friendly nations.

    And before someone pulls out the "terrorist building nukes" bogeyman - that requires a lot more than building a few centrifuges from stuff bought on Alibaba. There are plenty of simpler, cheaper and easier accessible methods to wreak havoc than trying to build a nuke that even countries like Iran didn't succeed in so far, despite vastly bigger resources than some lunatics in a cave possess.

    • by Okian Warrior ( 537106 ) on Sunday November 02, 2014 @04:10PM (#48295609) Homepage Journal

      Most of this gear has lots of legitimate uses as well. Not to mention that if someone really wanted to obtain this sort of gear, I cannot imagine them shopping for it on Alibaba or eBay.[...]

      I'm trying to become a rationalist, so here's (my take on) the fallacy.

      Police learn that "all drug labs use chemicals", so they think "all chemicals are intent to make drugs". If they see your home laboratory, you'll be arrested and have all your chemicals confiscated - even if you don't have the complete drug-making kit. I know of one home lab where this is exactly what happened. Frequently, having a scale is considered sufficient evidence of drug dealing.

      I've read several news reports of people being arrested for having "bomb making materials" where the kit was incomplete - in one case a box of [glass] canning jars in the back of a vehicle along with a bag of fertilizer. No fuel oil (for ANFO []), nothing that could be a fuse, no apparent intent, and no apparent target. A guy's life got completely fucked up for no apparent reason.

      Another example: explosives are delivered by rocket, so rockets will be used to deliver explosives. We have to ban model rocketry!

      Sexual harassment is done by ribald speech, therefore all ribald speech is sexual harassment. (Even if there's no threat?)

      Other examples too numerous to mention.

      This is formally the Fallacy of the Reversed Conditional [], and it's used in lots and lots of news articles to stoke fear and promote the writer's agenda.

      It's a problem in Bayesian probability. Consider whether the following reversals are valid or invalid:

      Probability that someone carries a purse, given that they're a woman (high or low), probability that someone is a woman, given that they're carrying a purse (high or low)? Is reversing this conditional valid?

      Probability that John is dead, given that he was executed (high or low), probability that John was executed, given that he is dead (high or low)? Is reversing the conditional valid?

      Two examples of reversed the conditionals, but only one is valid when reversed.

      We need to sort through the bias and clever manipulation of innuendo, and consider the arguments on their merits. Owning any of the cited tech is not evidence of bomb-making, and invasive tracking laws will not help stop nuclear proliferation.

      The fallacy is used for a reason: they want to impose invasive tracking for other reasons, using your emotions against you.

      Don't be fooled.

  • by CaptainDork ( 3678879 ) on Sunday November 02, 2014 @03:21PM (#48295253)

    ... and there are other more dangerous sites [].

  • Let's clearly separate the cases

    a) You are an institution which is powerful/rich enough to build (AFAIU they were talking about the raw metals here) operate a isotope enrichment plant, breeder reactors, and compose these to a *working* nuclear device (Ahem even countries like North Korea or Iran take a while for this): It's very likely that you were able to contact sellers of these required equipment without the internet (and doing so via the internet may get you on a list of the NSA to watch)

    b) You are a t

  • by burni2 ( 1643061 ) on Sunday November 02, 2014 @03:29PM (#48295321)


    Stones used in stonings in Iran.

    We old (in)continentler (european) stopped delivering sodiompenthatol to the U.S. because of its use in executions.

    Stop delivering stones to Iran.

    The funny thing about nuclear weapons is.

    You need the fucking key ingredient!
    Uran or Plutonium

    And yes when you have that you can enrich it!
    But when I remember correctly the Uranium content of the best ton of uranium ore was about 0,3%.

    And the amount of centrifuges to increase the concentration is enormous.

    Now you need to put that Caterpiller Truck also on the list.

    No fucking idiot without a big organisation can do that.

    We should track lathe and mill buyers first, because these are the tools weapons of person destruction are built off.

  • We arrange all our 'special' purchases over a secure p>p network and pay in bitcoin.

  • I can go down the street to Walmart and Lowes, and for under $100, buy materials to seed my yard with OMG !! landmines. Probably won't kill you, but it will slow you down.

    Should we close those stores as well?
    (well, probably, but not for those reasons)
    • by guruevi ( 827432 )

      You know that IS the whole point of a land mine (or any type of IED) right? Not to kill but to maim, slow down, drive up the expenses and bring down the morale of your enemy.

  • A company on an Alibaba-owned Chinese Internet-trading platform even posted an ad for the sale of the rare metal gallium

    Oh no! Not the "rare metal" gallium!

    How could something so dangerous and rare be sold to the general public []?

  • by Drachs ( 29694 ) on Sunday November 02, 2014 @04:03PM (#48295577) Homepage

    Code name, Amazon Prime

    I used it to make a novelty heart, which melted in her hands.

    • I used it to make a novelty heart, which melted in her hands.

      That's really cool. Was it hard to work with?

      • by Drachs ( 29694 )

        Nope, I just microwaved some water in a bowl, then I placed the container of gallium in the bowl of warm water, it melted in a minute or so, and I poured it into a mold. Takes quite a while for it to melt at body temperature, so you'll have to hold hands for a while. :)

  • Christ, Iran already has the fissionable material and the fucking centrifuges and still hasn't produced a weapon. We're really worried about somebody buying shit on eBay and making it in their basement?
  • "Parts and Supplies for the next babies boomers' generation"
  • How much is stuff set up to fail by three letter agencies in US/UK? And contrary to popular scare mongering, making a nuke is not easy, even a simple gun type assembly. Delivering it to the target is a another very large hurdle. For those interested, I do recommend this book []

  • All those items and materials have legions of legitimate uses in science and manufacturing; only an ignoramus would accept the absurd allegations of summary or article.

  • You mean, like is combined with arsenic (a deadly poison) to use for all sorts of evil things like LEDs and high speed transistors for things like cell phones?

    And you can combine it with that nitrogen stuff that is part of so many explosives. And use it for (wait for it) even brighter LEDs!

    Wow. That's some real exotic stuff there. Certainly wouldn't want any of that in the world.

    Yeah, this is the sort of BS I'd expect out of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. It's sad they've figured out that submitting

  • US support through their shills is plenty enough. Ask Holland, Israel and Pakistan, in any order.

  • by Charcharodon ( 611187 ) on Sunday November 02, 2014 @08:23PM (#48297193)
    This is stupid, if you have a basic machine shop, access to a electronics supply store, and some raw materials you have what it takes to make nuclear weapons. How exactly do you think they did it back in the day? They didn't special order it out of a catalog.....

    The level of stupid in the world is astounding.

  • ... all I got was a shiny bomb case full of pinball machine parts.

  • While we all love our polonium encrusted static master brushes, americium drenched smoke detectors, tritium and radium enhanced time pieces... what I really want for Christmas this year are a matching pair of plutonium powered hand-warmers.

    None of this boiling water to recharge leaky sodium acetate bags made by the lowest bidder, intentionally throwing our smartphones into thermal overload or the mess left behind by paper envelopes filled with iron filings.

    Not only do plutonium hand warmers guarantee many y

Things are not as simple as they seems at first. - Edward Thorp