Mexico City, Mexico (4E) – Mexican authorities cordoned off a field where a container of radioactive cobalt-60 was found in the town of Hueypoxtla on Thursday as they figure out how to safely secure and remove it from the area.
The container with the pellets of cobalt-60 used in hospital radiotherapy machines was apparently abandoned in the field by two men who stole the truck transporting the radioactive material to a storage facility in central Mexico on Monday. Initial inspection found the area to be not contaminated but the container still has to be removed carefully to protect public health.
Mexican nuclear safety officials said the carjackers did not know what they were stealing and are likely to suffer radiation injury for removing the container from its protective casing in the truck and trying to open it. An official from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said it could be extremely dangerous to a person to remove the container from its shielding, or if the container was damaged.
The theft of the truck carrying the material that can be used to make a dirty bomb alarmed officials in Mexico, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the U.S. But the national security threat posed by the hijacking was dismissed by White House press secretary Jay Carney on Wednesday, when the truck was found.
The armed hijackers forcibly took the truck from its two drivers at a gas station in Tepojaco, near Mexico City on Monday. Police found the truck 25 miles away from the gas station and the container holding 1.4 ounces of hazardous cobalt coming from a hospital in Tijuana was found less than a mile from the truck.
A robotic equipment is needed to handle and remove the cobalt container and the area has to be decontaminated.