Mexico Hunts for Thieves of Recovered Radioactive Materials

Global Security Newswire Staff
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Global Security Newswire Staff
Dec. 6, 2013, 9:02 a.m.

Mex­ico on Thursday searched for two or more thieves who could be ail­ing from ex­pos­ure to a now-re­covered sup­ply of ra­dio­act­ive co­balt-60, the Los Angeles Times re­por­ted.

Au­thor­it­ies have sug­ges­ted ra­di­ation would doom the thieves, who ap­peared to have un­know­ingly taken the ma­ter­i­al when they stole a truck en route from a Tijuana can­cer-treat­ment cen­ter to a waste-dis­pos­al fa­cil­ity out­side the na­tion’s cap­it­al in cent­ral Mex­ico. The theft promp­ted an In­ter­na­tion­al Atom­ic En­ergy Agency alert over the miss­ing sub­stance, which had the po­ten­tial of be­ing used in a ra­di­olo­gic­al “dirty bomb.”

The ma­ter­i­al turned up on Wed­nes­day in an un­shiel­ded 4-inch-long by 1.2-inch-wide cop­per con­tain­er, in an open field in the town of Hueypoxtla, the As­so­ci­ated Press re­por­ted. Med­ic­al per­son­nel were mon­it­or­ing a five-per­son fam­ily that no­ti­fied po­lice after find­ing the aban­doned item and re­mov­ing it from its cas­ing, the Times re­por­ted.

“They said they found the ma­ter­i­al in a va­cant lot and took it home, think­ing it was scrap met­al that they could sell,” loc­al civil-pro­tec­tion chief Ju­lio Cesar Ab­reu said. “They are un­der­go­ing med­ic­al ex­am­in­a­tions, and some have been al­lowed to go home.”

Law en­force­ment and armed forces per­son­nel re­stric­ted ac­cess for more than a quarter-mile around where the co­balt ori­gin­ally turned up, AP re­por­ted. Au­thor­it­ies said the ma­ter­i­al posed no risk to Hueypoxtla’s roughly 4,000 res­id­ents, but a num­ber of loc­als com­plained that they were kept in the dark about the un­fold­ing in­cid­ent.

“We just want to know,” said Maria del So­corro Rostro Salaz­ar, an at­tor­ney liv­ing in the area. “There’s a kinder­garten about 50 meters (yards) away (from the cor­doned area) and they were op­er­at­ing nor­mally yes­ter­day. No one told them the con­tain­er was nearby.”

Au­thor­it­ies on Thursday were work­ing to pack the co­balt-60 pel­lets — which re­mained un­dam­aged — in­to shiel­ded cas­ing and move the ma­ter­i­al to a waste site, AP re­por­ted. The pro­cess could take two days or longer, ac­cord­ing to Juan Eibens­chutz, head of Mex­ico’s Na­tion­al Com­mis­sion of Nuc­le­ar Safety and Safe­guards.

This art­icle was pub­lished in Glob­al Se­cur­ity News­wire, which is pro­duced in­de­pend­ently by Na­tion­al Journ­al Group un­der con­tract with the Nuc­le­ar Threat Ini­ti­at­ive. NTI is a non­profit, non­par­tis­an group work­ing to re­duce glob­al threats from nuc­le­ar, bio­lo­gic­al, and chem­ic­al weapons.

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