Radioactive material went missing in Mexico after thieves stole a pick-up truck. This is the fourth such robbery since 2013 in Mexico that involves the highly dangerous radioactive isotope, Iridium-192.
The Mexican government raised an alert for a large part of the country after the theft of an industrial device containing radioactive material, reported CNN. So far, five states are on alert after the theft was reported Saturday by a company in Queretaro. Incidentally, the thieves stole a pick-up truck that contained sensitive equipment, which uses the radioactive material. Confirming the threat, the National Coordination of Civil Protection stated that a 2006 red Chevrolet Silverado pickup transporting radioactive iridium-192, was stolen in San Juan del Rio at about 6 a.m. local time (7 a.m. ET). The agency has issued the warning and an intensive search is already underway.
The agency, however, did not elaborate if the radioactive material was the target. Thefts of equipment is common in the region and perhaps the thieves might have decided to seize the opportunity and steal a truck, but coincidentally made off with a lot more than they bargained for. Thieves are generally completely unaware that what they are stealing could contain dangerous radioactive material. They are focused on goods or vehicles that can be easily sold or traded. Regardless, the material inside the device, which incidentally is used for industrial radiography, is highly dangerous.
The nuclear commission confirmed that the radioactive material inside the device is Iridium-192. The agency added that as such the equipment isn’t dangerous. However, the material can be extremely deadly if it is handled incorrectly by amateurs who don’t know what they are dealing with. The material is housed in a bright yellow protective sheathing, confirmed the agency through a statement,
“The material, which was being transported in a bright yellow container, can be dangerous to people if not handled in safe conditions or if handled without the right protection. It can cause permanent or grave wounds to a person who handles it or is in touch with it during a brief period (between minutes and hours). If the material is not found in its container it represents an important risk to health. The material is nevertheless not dangerous if it is still in its packaging.”
Iridium-192 is one of the lesser potent radioactive isotopes, but it is highly toxic nonetheless. Even momentary exposure to the material can cause moderate to severe burns. The material does cause radiation sickness. It can also cause permanent injury within a matter of seconds and prolonged exposure of a few hours can be fatal. An industrial radiography device is a tool that uses the radioactive isotope to beam gamma radiation and then measure the feedback. A form of non-destructive testing, the machine is highly important to test pipelines. The machine indicates minute faults within the structures which can balloon into a larger one if not detected and addressed quickly. Structural problems such as weakening welds can be easily detected by the radiography device.
The material and the instrument belonged to the company Industrial Maintenance Center located in the city of San Juan del Rio, reported The Daily Mail. Among the five states that have been put on high alert, include Queretaro, Hidalgo, Guanajuato, San Luis Potosi and Michoacan. The Federal Highway Police has been ordered to be on the lookout for the stolen Chevrolet Silverado truck.
While the thieves may appear to be interested in other goods or the pick-up truck itself, thefts involving radioactive material isn’t uncommon in Mexico. In April 2015, a container carrying iridium-192 was stolen. Fortunately, the canister was recovered in intact condition a week later. So far there have been four such thefts of radioactive material in Mexico since 2013, reported The Yucatan Times.
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