Arrests following Mexican source theft

10 December 2013

Six suspects, apparently unharmed, have been arrested following the theft of a truck carrying a medical radioactive source in Mexico. The source was later found but had been removed from its container.

A truck transporting a teletherapy device containing a cobalt-60 (Co-60) source from a hospital in the northern city of Tijuana to a radioactive waste storage facility was stolen in Tepojaco near Mexico City on 2 December. Mexico's National Commission of Nuclear Safety and Safeguards (Comision Nacional de Seguridad Nuclear y Salvaguardias, CNSNS) informed the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that the source was properly shielded at the time the truck was taken.

Two days later, the CNSNS reported that police had found the truck in a field near the town of Hueypoxtla, not far from where it had been stolen. However, the Co-60 source had been taken out of the cancer treatment device and removed from its protective shielding. It said that the source itself appeared undamaged.

The Co-60 source, with an activity of 111 terabequerels, represented a serious risk to people handling it, the IAEA said. Anyone handling it or coming into contact with it for more than a few minutes could face permanent injury. Being close to the unshielded source for between a few minutes and up to an hour would probably be fatal.

Six men, aged between 16 and 38, have now been arrested by police on suspicion of stealing the vehicle and were taken to hospital for medical checks. However, none of the suspects appeared to be suffering from the effects of high radiation exposure.

Produced in nuclear reactors, cobalt-60 is an energetic gamma emitter that is used for the sterilization of medical equipment, external irradiation in cancer treatment (teletherapy), industrial radiography and to measure density or thickness.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News