Mexican police located a stolen truck which contained dangerous radioactive material the UN warned could be used to construct a “dirty bomb.” The safety container holding that cargo was found empty, with the material abandoned nearby.
The vehicle was found close to where it was stolen outside of Mexico City as it was transporting cobalt-60 from a hospital in Tijuana to a radioactive waste storage center. Mexico’s nuclear safety director Juan Eibenschutz said radioactivity had been detected about a half mile (1 kilometer) from where the truck and container were located.
Mexico’s national nuclear safety commission CNSNS has said that the thieves, thought to be unaware of the contents which have now been located, removed it from its protective container and were exposed to dangerous levels of radiation.
“This is a radioactive source that is very strong,” Eibenschutz told the AP, saying that exposure could cause death almost immediately if in close proximity.
“Fortunately there are no people where the source of radioactivity is,” Eibenschutz added.
So far there were no indications that the theft of the cobalt was an intentional act of terrorism, said Eibenshutz. The stolen radioactive material was used in radiation therapy equipment that is now obsolete and is being phased out of Mexico’s public health system.
Federal police and the military have been mobilized in the municipalities of Hueypoxtla and Zumpango. CNSNS says the recovered radioactive material will be returned to a sealed case as soon as possible
An official familiar with similar cases told the AP that unintentional theft of radioactive materials are not altogether uncommon.
In the 1970s one thief died and another was injured when a container also holding radioactive material was opened. That container was then sold to a foundry where it contaminated steel reinforcement bars. All foundries in Mexico now have equipment that can detect radioactivity.