Mexican authorities scrambled on Wednesday to find a stolen truck containing “extremely dangerous” radioactive material used in medical treatment, officials said. The truck was transporting a “teletherapy source” containing cobalt-60 when it was stolen in the central Hidalgo state town of Tepojaco, north of Mexico City, the International Atomic Energy Agency said.
The IAEA said the material came from a hospital in the northern city of Tijuana and had been on its way to a radioactive waste storage centre. It said the truck was stolen at a service station.
“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 was damaged,” an IAEA statement said. The IAEA said it was informed about the theft by Mexico’s National Commission for Nuclear Safety and Safeguards (CNSNS).
A search was under way in six States and in Mexico City.
Mexico’s drug cartels have branched out to other illegal activities, stealing oil by piercing pipelines and extracting coal and iron ore, but officials have not said who the thieves might be.
Experts have long warned about the risks posed by the large amounts of radioactive material held in hospitals, university campuses and factories, often with little or no security measures to prevent them being stolen.
Such material is highly dangerous to human health if not properly handled.
Cobalt-60 “has figured in several serious source accidents including fatalities because the material was obtained and handled by people who were not aware of its danger,” said Mark Hibbs, analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
The radioactive material could in theory be put in a so-called “dirty bomb.” “If a ‘dirty bomb’ is detonated in a major city, or sabotage occurs at a nuclear facility, the consequences could be devastating,” said IAEA chief Yukiya Amano.