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Bulgarian Customs Officials Seize Nuclear Metal

Hafnium is a chemical element in the periodic table that has the symbol Hf and atomic number 72. A lustrous, silvery gray tetravalent transition metal, hafnium resembles zirconium chemically and is found in zirconium minerals. Hafnium is used in tungsten alloys in filaments and electrodes and also acts as a neutron absorber in nuclear control rods.

September 19, 2005

Bulgarian customs officials have arrested a driver carrying more that 7.5 lbs. of a rare metal (Hafnium) that can abe used in nuclear reactors.

The extremely pure sample of hafnium was found on a Bulgarian man trying to cross into Romania.

There are no facilities to produce hafnium in Bulgaria, and it is illegal to import or export it from the country.

"The substance was transported as a metal, and in this condition it is not radioactive and is not dangerous," police said in a statement.

Hafnium has both civilian and military uses. The silvery "transition metal" is named after Latin for Copenhagen and is used in nuclear reactors. It can also be used in the reactors of nuclear submarines, as well as used in rockets and bombs. But it can also be used for radio tubes and televisions.

Marina Nizamska, of the state Nuclear Regulatory Agency told French news agency AFP: "It is a very rare element - very beautiful and extremely expensive.

"The hafnium seized is almost 100% pure and the chances are that it was purposefully isolated to obtain that high level of purity. It is a double usage substance and police were right to confiscate it."

Police spokesman General Valentin Petrov told Bulgarian television that police suspect an international criminal gang was trying to smuggle the hafnium.

Care needs to be taken when machining hafnium because when it is divided into fine particles, it is pyrophoric and can ignite spontaneously in air. Compounds that contain this metal are rarely encountered by most people and the pure metal is not normally toxic but all its compounds should be handled as if they are toxic (although there appears to be limited danger to exposed individuals).