The Mafia Branches Out

by Kevin Jon Heller

It’s bad enough that the Mafia’s criminal activity accounts for 7% of Italy’s gross domestic product. Even worse is that at least one major Mafia clan has discovered a new product to traffic — nuclear material:

Authorities in Italy are investigating a mafia clan accused of trafficking nuclear waste and trying to make plutonium.

The ‘Ndrangheta mafia, which gained notoriety in August for its blood feud killings of six men in Germany, is alleged to have made illegal shipments of radioactive waste to Somalia, as well as seeking the “clandestine production” of other nuclear material.

Two of the Calabrian clan’s members are being investigated, along with eight former employees of the state energy research agency Enea.

The eight are suspected of paying the mobsters to take waste off their hands in the 1980s and 1990s. At the time they were based at the agency’s centre at Rotondella, a town in Basilicata province in the toe of Italy, which today treats “special” and “hazardous” waste. At other centres, Enea studies nuclear fusion and fission technologies.

The ‘Ndrangheta has been accused by investigators of building on its origins as a kidnapping gang to become Europe’s top cocaine importer, thanks to ties to Colombian cartels. But the nuclear accusation, if true, would take it into another league.

An Enea official who declined to be named denied the accusation, saying: “Enea has always worked within the rules and under strict national and international supervision.”


Shipments to Somalia, where the waste was buried after buying off local politicians, continued into the 1990s, while the mob also became adept at blowing up shiploads of waste, including radioactive hospital waste, and sending them to the sea bed off the Calabrian coast, the turncoat told investigators. Although he made no mention of attempted plutonium production, Il Giornale newspaper wrote that the mobsters may have planned to sell it to foreign governments.

“The ‘Ndrangheta has no morals and, if there is money in an activity, it will have no problem getting involved, even nuclear waste,” said Nicola Gratteri, the anti-mafia magistrate investigating the shooting in Germany in August of six Italians – the most recent episode of a blood feud between clans in the Calabrian village of San Luca, which cast the spotlight on the ‘Ndrangheta’s global trafficking and drug-dealing business worth up £25bn, a year. According to the turncoat, the plan to enter the radioactive waste business also started in San Luca, hatched by its then boss, Giuseppe Nirta.

The danger involved in these activities — both to humans and to the environment — speaks for itself. Fortunately, it seems that the Mafia’s plutonium dreams have so far come to naught. Let’s hope it stays that way: the last thing the world needs is an amoral, extremely well-organized and -funded criminal organization turning nuclear material into just another commodity to be sold to the highest bidder.

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