According to officials in Iraq, radioactive material that was stolen five months ago has finally been found safe and 100 percent intact. The radioactive material was reported missing in November after it was taken from the U.S. company Weatherford International, one of the largest global providers of oil and natural gas services headquartered in Switzerland and founded in Weatherford, Texas, more than 70 years ago. Inspections group SGS, based out of Geneva, Switzerland, owns and uses the Iraq radioactive material to test the quality of materials used by Weatherford in oil and gas pipelines.
A storage facility belonging to Weatherford in the southern Iraq city of Basra housed the stolen radioactive material. Al Jazeera reported on Sunday that the radioactive material could potentially be fatal for people exposed over a long period of time. Authorities had concerns that the radioactive material no larger than the size of a one-gallon zip lock bag could fall into the hands of the Iraq terrorist group ISIS and be used in the production of a dirty bomb. Although, according to CNN, the form of radioactive material stolen in Iraq could not be easily dispersed as a radiological weapon.
“More people would probably be killed by the high explosive than by the radioactivity,” according to Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Senior Associate James Acton in a CNN television interview.
Acton went on to say that the radioactive material is definitely not nuclear material and could never be used to build a nuclear weapon. Even though Acton says it’s very difficult to kill a large number of people with the type of radioactive material stolen in Iraq, it would be immensely disruptive and, if spread over a large enough area, could be extremely hard and difficult to clear up.
Naturally occurring radioactive material can be found throughout the environment as elements uranium and radon. A radioactive isotope of the element iridium called Iridium-192 is the type of radioactive material stolen from SGS Turkey last year in Iraq and does not occur naturally. As an unstable isotope, Iridium-192 is used widely as gamma radiography in industrial applications, as well as a radiation source in medicine to kill cancer cells. The Guardian reports that Iridium-192 can, in fact, be used to make a dirty bomb but loses its potency rather quickly.
“No respectable dirty-bomb maker would touch it,” according to the report.
The report went on to say that the thieves who steal this type of radioactive material probably don’t even realize what they have until after the fact. This was apparently the case in Iraq. Once the thief or thieves realized the radioactive material wasn’t good for much, they dumped the case near a wall at a gas station in the southern Iraq city of Zubair, not even a 30-minute drive from where it was stolen in Basra, Iraq. Jabbar al-Saidi, the chief of the security panel within the Basra provincial council, said it’s unclear how the device ended up in Zubair.
“A passer-by found the radioactive device dumped in Zubair and immediately informed security forces which went with a special radiation prevention team and retrieved the device.”
The Iraq radioactive material is now being held in Zubair under tight controls with no concern of radiation exposure. Jabbar al-Saidi says it’s only a matter of time before they make an arrest in the case, but SGS and Weatherford reportedly have no idea how the radioactive material made it out of the oil storage facility.
Even though the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission rates Iridium-192 as a Category 2 radioactive source, Ir-192 is only possibly fatal if someone has extremely close unshielded contact with it for days and could possibly cause burns in the short-term. Radioactive material found in nature is only considered dangerous after several years of continued excessive exposure, unlike the stolen Iraq radioactive material.
[Image via YouTube/Periodic Table of Videos]