Friday, December 6, 2013
Six people have been admitted to a hospital in central Mexico with potential radiation exposure. Mexican officials believe they could have been contaminated by the radioactive material stolen earlier this week while in transit from a Tijuana hospital to a storage site.
According to the Associated Press, a Mexican government official said the six people are suspects in the theft of truck carrying cobalt-60.
The highly dangerous cobalt-60 was found Wednesday and had been removed from its protective container, likely exposing whoever handled it to potentially deadly levels of radioactivity.
“It’ll be a very painful death, unfortunately,” Dan Hirsch, a lecturer on nuclear policy at UC Santa Cruz, said of those exposed to the cobalt-60.
The material was found in central Mexico two and a half days after it was reported missing. The driver carrying the shipment reported that two men held him up at gunpoint while he was parked at a gas station. They stole the truck, along with the radioactive material.
After the cobalt-60 was found, the International Atomic Energy Agency issued a news release in which it said it believed authorities had responded appropriately to the discovery of the missing material.
Mexico’s nuclear regulatory agency has a security cordon around the area where the material was located and is working on recovering it in order to bring it a secure storage facility, according to Mardonio Jimenez Rojas, director of operational supervision at Mexico’s National Commission of Nuclear Safety and Safeguards.
Jimenez said the company licensed to transport the material, Asesores en Radiaciones, appears to have disregarded several regulations related to transport of hazardous materials.
The truck carrying the cobalt-60 apparently was not properly marked and not traceable by GPS, Jimenez said.
Jimenez noted that this was the first time Mexico has experienced a theft of such high-level radioactive material. Worldwide, the International Atomic Energy Agency has confirmed more than 600 incidents of reported theft or loss of radioactive material in the past two decades, according to a 2012 report.