Mexico finds stolen radioactive material outside box

December 5, 2013 8:05 am
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A Federal Police helicopter overflies the gas station in Tepojaco, Hidalgo state, Mexico, where a truck carrying a cancer-treating device containing dangerous radioactive material that was stolen/AFP
A Federal Police helicopter overflies the gas station in Tepojaco, Hidalgo state, Mexico, where a truck carrying a cancer-treating device containing dangerous radioactive material that was stolen/AFP
TEPOJACO, Dec 5 – Mexican soldiers on Wednesday set up a safety perimeter around a cancer-treating device containing dangerous radioactive material that was stolen along with a truck from a gas station.

The people who stole the truck and removed the device from a steel-reinforced wooden box and left it in a rural area north of Mexico City are probably already dead or dying, the national nuclear safety board said.

But the danger of contamination is minimal because the area where the device was found is so uninhabited, it added. No evacuations were necessary.

There was no immediate word on who might have stolen the truck. It was on its way to dispose of the disused medical device at a nuclear storage facility.

Experts are trying to figure out the best way to recover the device safely, the National Commission for Nuclear Safety and Safeguards (CNSNS) said in a statement on Wednesday evening.

The thieves apparently just wanted the truck, which was stolen Monday, without knowing about the cargo it carried, officials said.

The device containing cobalt-60 was taken out of its container and left hundreds of meters (yards) from the truck in Hueypoxtla, said Mardonio Jimenez, operations director at the CNSNS.

“It’s almost absolutely certain that whoever removed this material by hand is either already dead or about to die,” CNSNS director Juan Eibenschutz told Milenio television.

Eibenschutz said the transport company failed to live up to its commitment, saying the truck lacked a tracking device or proper security despite the firm’s experience. He said the matter should be investigated.

The white Volkswagen Worker truck was transporting the device from a hospital in the northwestern city of Tijuana when it was stolen at a service station in central Hidalgo state.

The vehicle was supposed to deliver the material to a radioactive waste disposal facility in the central state named Mexico.

The International Atomic Energy Agency warned that the material was “extremely dangerous” if removed from its shielding. Experts also said the 60 grams of cobalt-60 inside it was enough to make a “dirty bomb”, designed to spread radioactivity.

Authorities had searched for the truck in six states and the capital, delivering radio messages for people to call an emergency number in case they saw the truck.

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