UK & World News

  • 6 December 2013, 11:21

Stolen Radioactive Material Found In Field

A stolen shipment of highly radioactive cobalt-60 has been found abandoned in a field in Mexico.

A family took the opened medical device containing the radioactive material into their home after finding it in central Mexico state. The International Atomic Energy Agency said the material was extremely dangerous, and the family arebeing monitored for health problems.

Mardonio Jimenez, a physicist for Mexico's nuclear safety commission, said the vehicle carrying the cobalt-60 had been stolen from a petrol station early on Monday in the neighbouring state of Hidalgo, about 24 miles (40km) from where the material was recovered.

Authorities warned that whoever removed the radioactive material by hand was probably contaminated and could soon die.

"We will have to keep this family under medical watch for the sole reason of being near a certain distance from the source," Mr Jimenez told Milenio television.

Authorities were still looking for the thieves, but said it was not clear if they were the ones who had opened the capsule which contained the material.

The cobalt-60 pellets did not appear to have been damaged or broken up and there was no sign of contamination to the area, the agency said, quoting Mexican nuclear safety officials.

The atomic energy agency said it has an activity of 3,000 curies, or Category 1, meaning "it would probably be fatal to be close to this amount of unshielded radioactive material for a period in the range of a few minutes to an hour".

Hospitals were on alert for people with radiation exposure, though none had been reported so far.

However, soldiers had set up a 500m safety perimeter around the hazardous material while experts worked to recover it.

Juan Eibenschutz, director general of the National Commission of Nuclear Safety and Safeguards, said it could take at least two days to safely get the material into a secure container and transport it to a waste site.

"It's a very delicate operation," MrEibenschutz said.

"What's important is that the material has been located and the place is being watched to guarantee no one gets close."

The cobalt-60 was being transported from a hospital to a waste disposal facility when the unescorted truck was taken.

The theft sparked fears that the material could be used to build a so-called dirty bomb and the United States said its national security team had monitored the situation "very closely".