Thieves steal extremely radioactive material in Mexico

Radioactive material

Newscast Media WASHINGTON—Thieves in Mexico have stolen a truck carrying radioactive material used for medical purposes that could be “extremely dangerous” if it is removed from its casing, the United Nations’ nuclear energy watchdog said Wednesday.

The Volkswagen truck was transporting radiotherapy equipment containing the powerful radioactive isotope cobalt-60 when it was stolen Monday morning in the town of Tepojaco near Mexico City, the International Atomic Energy Agency said in a statement.

“At the time the truck was stolen, the source was properly shielded. However, the source could be extremely dangerous to a person if removed from the shielding, or if it were damaged,” the IAEA said.

Mexican authorities said Wednesday that law enforcement units had been mobilized in several states to hunt for the truck, which was equipped with a crane and stolen at a gas station.

The material came from a hospital in the northern Mexican city of Tijuana and was being transported to a radioactive waste storage center when it was stolen, the IAEA said.

A US official told NBC News that the US Border Patrol had been notified of the theft and the contents of the truck. One federal official said that “whoever stole the truck had no idea what was inside and was more interested in getting a truck,” NBC News reported.

NBC News cited an unidentified law enforcement official as saying that the truck was carrying a thumb-size amount of cobalt-60 that would be perilous for anyone who tries to fashion a makeshift nuclear device out of it.

“It would be extremely dangerous to anyone who tried to grind it up for use in a dirty bomb,” NBC News cited the official as saying.

The Nuclear Threat Initiative, a Washington-based anti-proliferation group, tracked 15 reported thefts and seizures of radioactive material last year, including incidents involving Russia and several former Soviet republics such as Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Georgia, Uzbekistan, Armenia and Moldova.

Source: Ria Novosti