Mexico finds stolen radioactive material
05 December 2013, 19:33
Tepojaco - Mexican authorities found on Wednesday a stolen medical device containing dangerous radioactive material outside the truck that was carrying it north of Mexico City, threatening the lives of those who touched it, officials said.
Military and police forces cordoned off the area to prevent contamination after finding the radiation treatment machine in a rural area north of Mexico City two days after the truck was stolen.
The device containing cobalt-60 was taken out of its steel-reinforced wood container and left hundreds of meters from the truck in Hueypoxtla, said Mardonio Jimenez, operations director at the national commission for nuclear safety and safeguards (CNSNS).
"It's almost absolutely certain that whoever removed this material by hand is either already dead or about to die," CNSNS director Juan Eibenschutz told Milenio television.
Authorities said they did not need to evacuate the area because it was sparsely populated.
Eibenschutz said the transport company failed to live up to its commitment, saying the truck lacked a tracking device or proper security despite the firm's experience. He said the matter should be investigated.
The white Volkswagen worker truck was transporting the device from a hospital in the northwestern city of Tijuana when it was stolen at a service station in central Hidalgo state on Monday.
The vehicle was supposed to deliver the material to a radioactive waste disposal facility in the central state named Mexico.
The International Atomic Energy Agency warned that the material was "extremely dangerous" if removed from its shielding. Experts also said the 60 grams of cobalt-60 inside it was enough to make a "dirty bomb."
Authorities had searched for the truck in six states and the capital, delivering radio messages for people to call an emergency number in case they saw the truck.
The driver told investigators that two gunmen approached him at a Pemex service station, tied him up and drove away with the truck, according to a text of the testimony shown by the Hidalgo state prosecutor's office.
The manager of the Pemex service station, an hour's drive north of Mexico City, told AFP the driver appeared to have parked across the street to rest overnight.
The material was on its way to the radioactive waste storage centre in Maquixco, Mexico state. The facility is surrounded by a white fence topped with barbed wire, but no armed guards were visible outside, an AFP correspondent said.
An official from the centre said the truck driver had been waiting for the facility to open at 08:00 on Tuesday.
Mexico's drug cartels have diversified their illegal activities in recent years, stealing oil and minerals, but officials have not said who the cobalt-60 thieves might be.