FNS: Stolen US Radioactive Capsule Found at US-Mexico Border
- FNS: Radioactive Capsule Sought Along Border by Mexican and US Officials Found at Tecate Dump
Date: 7/31/2002 3:52:41 PM Pacific Daylight Time
A capsule filled with radioactive iridium 192 was found in a Tecate, Baja California trash dump at 7:45 a.m. local time on Wednesday, July 31, 2002. The capsule, stolen from a truck on Wednesday, July 24, was found still unopened in its protective case. Mexican and US agencies were looking for the radioactive source, according to an article in the Tijuana newspaper Frontera (no relation to FNS).
Used in a device that inspects pipelines, the capsule was found by a 31-year old woman who, along with her family, makes a living by scouring dumps for recyclable material. The pipeline inspection firm that lost the radioactive source promised a 20,000 peso (approximately US$2,100) reward for the return of the material.
Found a few kilometers from where it was thought stolen, the iridium was still in its protective case when Federal Preventative Police arrived to the dump.
Quoted in Frontera newspaper on Monday, July 29, Gabriel Gómez Ruiz, the director of Civil Protection, said that although iridium 192 will not contaminate material it comes in contact with, it will produce severe injuries in humans in as few as fifteen minutes.
In the past, such radioactive sources have been lost and have even resulted in fatalities.
In January, 2001, Frontera NorteSur wrote an article about a density detector with a radioactive Americium source that also was stolen from a truck, this time near Chihuahua City. FNS was not able to discover if the device was eventually recovered.
Apparently such thefts are common. According to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), "In the period January 1996 through October 2000, NRC and Agreement State licensees reported a total 156 thefts of portable gauges. Fifty-one occurred in the States of Texas and Florida. Most of the thefts occurred when gauges were stored in vehicles parked in areas vulnerable to theft. Only 40 percent of gauges reported stolen were reported as having been recovered. Two of the 156 events involved attempts to sell the stolen gauges. In both of these cases the gauge was returned to the owner. In another two events, gauges were found in scrap metal when radiation monitors alarmed. In one event, only the source rod was found. In the other case, the gauge was found intact."
The NRC recommends, "(1) requiring gauges to be locked in covered vehicle compartments, (2) not parking vehicles in areas vulnerable to theft, and (3) including a discussion of this IN in periodic or special gauge user training, to increase awareness of this problem." (Source: http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/gen-comm/info-notices/2001/in01011.html)
The loss of a US-produced iridium device, intended to go to Mexico in 1999, but found instead in England, is described at http://www.tmia.com/lost.html#Boston
Also according to the US NRC, in March, 1984, an iridium source being used to inspect welds at a new fossil-fuel plant in Morocco became detached from a piece of equipment. Apparently, the source was not properly returned to its safety container and a laborer at the plant took the tiny metal cylinder home.
Between May and June of the same year, eight people including the worker, his immediate family and some other relatives died of lung hemorrhages linked to the radiation poisoning. Other people were hospitalized for their injuries. (Source: http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/gen-comm/info-notices/1985/in85057.html)
Source: Frontera (Tijuana), July 29 & 31, 2002. --
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