Glowing Pockets: Modeling Illicit Nuclear and Radiological Trafficking Networks in the Former Soviet Union

Hugh Bradshaw


Since the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991, the international community has worked tirelessly to locate and secure loose Soviet legacy stockpiles of radiological and nuclear materials. While significant achievements have been made in this endeavor, some radiological and nuclear materials still remain unaccounted for 25 years later. Since 1993, the International Atomic Energy Agency has registered over 2,330 state-confirmed instances of unauthorized possession of nuclear and radiological materials; many of which had criminal connections or were the result of theft or loss. Nonproliferation scholars and working professionals alike have recognized the key role that former-Soviet states play in illicit nuclear and radiological trafficking networks, particularly those with developing security architectures and frozen domestic conflict zones such as Moldova, Georgia, and Ukraine. However, despite the insightful works that nonproliferation researchers have produced in the public domain, very little has been done to visualize or model the flow of radiological and nuclear materials from origin to destination. In an effort to fill this void, this paper evaluates whether the same models that assist researchers in analyzing transnational organized criminal networks can be used to model the illicit flows of radiological and nuclear materials. Drawing upon the works of Jay Albanese, Tim Hall, and other transnational organized crime researchers, this paper examines the utility of the Locational Approach, the Network Approach, and the Enterprise Approach in modeling these illicit flows in the former-Soviet Union. After careful consideration, a model utilizing components of all three approaches is constructed. The model’s utility is then evaluated through an interrogation of the Oleg Khintsagov nuclear trafficking network; one of most well documented networks in recent history. Finally, recommendations for the further testing of this model are put forth for use in future nonproliferation research.


Nonproliferation; Illicit Networks; Former Soviet Union; Russia; Georgia

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