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Thursday, December 5, 2013

Attention Terrorists: The Theft of Nuclear and YOU

An earlier post was devoted to “The Arafat Mystery” ( ). The burning question was.....did Yassar Arafat die from poisoning by radioactive polonium-210? The polonium was found on his toothbrush. So his body was exhumed this year after his death in 2004. According to an article in the LA Times 11/7/2013 Swiss forensic examiners found sufficient traces of polonium in Arafat's remains to conclude with relative certainty that his cause of death was polonium poisoning. The question remains as to who placed the polonium to which he was exposed.

Arafat died at 75, less than a month after falling ill with what doctors thought was influenza. He had vomiting, nausea, and abdominal pain, which are also symptoms of radiation poisoning. However, these symptoms are rarely diagnosed as such, unless the person has been known to be exposed. Radiation poisoning was used in 2006 to kill a KGB defector Alexander Litvinenko in London. Supposedly it was put into his tea. Again, the perpetrator is unknown, and the guilty party would be thought to suffer some exposure himself!

And now we have had nuclear material stolen from a medical device (such as an x-ray machine) being shipped by truck to a disposal site in Mexico. The truck was stolen from a gas station. The device was found later in a field but the nuclear material had been removed. Please read the following article as to the danger of handling this material. A person could die in as little as one hour.

While terrorists may think this nuclear material is something to add to their home made bomb.....hopefully they will be dead before it is completed.

Mexico Says Stolen Radioactive Source Found in Field
International Radiation Symbol
The international radiation symbol, or trefoil, indicates hazardous radioactive material. (Graphic: IAEA)

Mexico has informed the IAEA's Incident and Emergency Centre (IEC) that it has located a dangerous radioactive source that had been missing since the truck on which it was being transported was stolen on 2 December 2013.

Mexico's "Comisión Nacional de Seguridad Nuclear y Salvaguardias (CNSNS)" said law enforcement authorities tracked the teletherapy device down to a field near the town of Hueypoxtla in Mexico State, very close to where the truck was stolen, at around 14:00 (20:00 UTC) on 4 December 2013.

The radioactive cobalt-60 source contained in the device has been removed (by the thieves) from its protective shielding, but there is no indication that it has been damaged or broken up and no sign of contamination to the area. Police have secured the area around the source to a distance of 500 metres.

The source, with an activity of 3,000 curies (111 terabequerels), is considered Category 1. The IAEA defines a Category 1 source as extremely dangerous to the person. If not safely managed or securely protected, it would be likely to cause permanent injury to a person who handled it or who was otherwise in contact with it for more than a few minutes. It would probably be fatal to be close to this amount of unshielded radioactive material for a period in the range of a few minutes to an hour.

Mexican authorities are assessing potential radiation exposure to persons who may have been close to the unshielded source, and hospitals have been alerted to watch for symptoms of such exposure.

People exposed to the source do not represent a contamination risk to others. Based on the information available, the Mexican authorities and the IAEA believe the general public is safe and will remain safe.

The CNSNS and the Instituto Nacional de Investigaciones Nucleares (ININ) are preparing plans to recover and secure the source.

The IAEA remains in close contact with the Mexican authorities. It believes the actions taken in response to the discovery of the source are appropriate and follow Agency guidance for this type of event.

From Rueters:
As a follow up, the truck was found on Wednesday close to where it was stolen outside Mexico City. The thieves removed the radioactive material from a protective case, exposing them to dangerous levels of radiation then dumped it less than a mile away.

The truck was stolen on Monday while it was taking cobalt-60 from a hospital in the northern city of Tijuana to a radioactive waste-storage center, Mexican officials and the UN agency said earlier.
"Both the container and the radioactive source have been located," said Mardonio Jimenez Rojas, an official at the commission, told Reuters. "The radioactive source was removed from its container and was found a kilometer away."
"The thieves were exposed to radiation," he added, saying those exposed to the material could die. Experts were working on how to secure the radioactive material in a protective container, he said.
The vehicle was seized when the driver stopped at a gas station in the town of Temascalapa, 35 km (22 miles) northeast of Mexico City. Truck hijacking is common in Mexico and the theft occurred in the State of Mexico, which is not a drug cartel stronghold.
"Our suspicion is that they had no idea what they had stolen. This is a area where robberies are common," Fernando Hidalgo, spokesman for the Hidalgo state prosecutor, said earlier.
In 2000, three people died in Thailand after a cobalt-60 teletherapy unit was sold as scrap metal and ended up on a junkyard. About 1,870 people living nearby were exposed to "some elevated level of radiation," according to an IAEA publication.
About the same time in Mexico, homes built with metal rods that had been contaminated by stolen cobalt were destroyed, a spokesman for the attorney general's office said.
"Cobalt-60 has figured in several serious accidents, some of them fatal," said nuclear expert Mark Hibbs of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace think-tank. "If dispersed, cobalt-60 or other radioactive source material could cause radiation poisoning locally."

Story Resources
(Note to Media: We encourage you to republish these stories and kindly request attribution to the IAEA)

Los Angeles Times article: “Arafat probably poisoned, say Swiss Scientists” written by Carol J. Williams November 7, 2013