GUANGZHOU: Four men from Central China's Hunan Province have gone on trial at the Tianhe District Court here charged with trying to sell uranium, a radioactive element used in the production of nuclear weapons.
The court heard that between April 2005 and January of this year, Zhang Sangang, Yang Guoliang, Li Zi'an, and Li Huibin, attempted to sell 8 kg of types U-235 and U-238 uranium.
Zhang said he met a uranium mine owner surnamed Zhou - who is being tried separately - in April 2005 and offered to sell 8 kg of the radioactive chemical for him.
Zhou said he wanted a minimum of 200,000 yuan ($26,400) for each kilogram of uranium. If Zhang was able to achieve a higher price, he could keep the difference, the court heard.
Later, Zhang met Yang and the pair agreed to work together to find a buyer.
Soon after, Yang met Li Huibin and Li Zi'an, and they also joined the team.
The court heard that at the end of last year, Li Zi'an made contact with a businessman, Peng Shuangjin, in Guangzhou, capital of South China's Guangdong Province.
Peng claimed he had found a buyer in Hong Kong who was willing to pay 1.6 million yuan per kilogram for the uranium.
However, Peng was aware it was illegal to sell uranium and so reported Li Zi'an to the authorities.
On January 4, Li Zi'an and Li Huibin were arrested in Guangzhou in possession of a 15 g sample of the element they had brought from Hunan to show Peng.
Police in Hunan later tracked down and arrested Zhang and Yang.
However, despite having the four men in custody, police were unable to locate the 8 kg of uranium. The men claimed it had been lost because it had been moved around so much between potential buyers.
A verdict has yet to be reached in the case, as the court said the trial would continue until authorities tracked down the missing chemical.
Under Chinese law, the illegal trade in uranium carries a sentence of between three and 10 years in prison. In exceptional cases, it can carry the death sentence.
Jiang Chaoqiang, director of the Guangzhou No 12 People's Hospital, told China Daily: "The radioactive substance uranium does not explode when it is in its raw state, but it is very harmful to people's health."
Jiang said if people are in close contact with uranium for long periods, they run the risk of contracting leukemia or other cancers.
He said the missing uranium could pose a threat to the health of the general public and therefore needed to be found as soon as possible.