Russian nuclear scientists held in Bitcoin bust
Several Russian Federal Nuclear Centre staff in the city of Sarov had been detained after making “an attempt to use the work computing facilities for personal ends, including for so-called mining”, an institution spokeswoman, Tatiana Zalesskaya, was quoted saying by the state-run Interfax news agency.
The supercomputer was not supposed to be connected to the internet for security reasons and once the scientists attempted to do so, the nuclear centre’s security department was reportedly alerted.
“Their activities were stopped in time. The bungling miners have been detained by the competent authorities. As far as I know, a criminal case has been opened,” the spokeswoman announced.
Rosatom, Russia’s nuclear agency, runs the site which develops nuclear weapons.
In 2011, the centre switched on a supercomputer with an alleged capacity of 1 petaflop, the equivalent of 1,000 trillion calculations per second. It was claimed by the media to be the 12th most powerful in the world at the time.
Crypto-currencies like Bitcoin do not rely on any centralised computer servers and users who provide their computer processing power to the crypto-currency system, to enable transactions to take place and to tackle mathematical challenges, are rewarded in more Bitcoins.
Mining Bitcoins requires massive computational power and huge amounts of energy. A Russian business owner has reportedly bought two power stations to mine crypto-currencies.
During the Cold War, Sarov was a top-secret city in the Nizhny Novgorod region, about 500km east of Moscow, known as Arzamas-16. It was not even marked on Soviet maps and special permits are still required for Russians to visit it.
The birthplace of the first Soviet nuclear weapons under Joseph Stalin remains a closed city whose inhabitants are subject to travel restrictions.
Sarov is surrounded by a barbed-wire buffer zone to keep outsiders away.
It is alleged that the radioactive substance, polonium-210, which was used to kill ex-FSB agent Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006 came from the closed city.
The authorities say they are taking a dim view of Bitcoin mining at state-run institutions.
“Similar attempts have recently been registered in a number of large companies with large computing capacities, which will be severely suppressed at our enterprises,” Zalesskaya said, according to Interfax.
Mining crypto-currencies “at our enterprises will be harshly put down, this activity technically has no future and is punishable as a crime”, the spokeswoman said.
Much of the Soviet nuclear arsenal came from Sarov. Picture credit: Wikimedia