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Radioactive Cargo May Have Killed Thieves

December 6, 2013
Written by: , Filed in: Practice Management
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Two Mexican thieves may be dead or dying of radiation poisoning, according to a Mexican nuclear safety expert.

Two men, one armed with a gun, stole a 2.5-ton Volkswagen crane truck at a gas station in Tepojaco, Mexico, in Hidalgo state, early Tuesday morning, according to the driver. The cargo consisted of obsolete radiation therapy equipment that contained highly radioactive cobalt-60. The truck was carrying it from a Tijuana hospital to a nuclear waste facility near Mexico City.

The International Atomic Energy Agency said in a statement that the device was safely prepared for transport:

At the time the truck was stolen, the source was properly shielded. However, the source could be extremely dangerous to a person if removed from the shielding, or if it was damaged.

Authorities found the truck and its cargo on Wednesday in a remote area 25 miles from where they were stolen. The container holding cobalt was found a half mile from the truck and had been opened, said Juan Eibenschutz, general director of Mexico’s National Commission for Nuclear Security and Safeguards.

Eibenschutz told NBC News on Wednesday that the thieves were likely dead or dying. They probably opened the shielded container, not knowing what it was carrying, he said, and suffered radiation burns.

Earlier, Eibenschutz had told the Associated Press that direct exposure to the cobalt-60 could result in death within a few minutes.

CNN reported Friday that authorities had accounted for all of the radioactive material. They set up a 500-meter perimeter around the recovery area, which is near the town of Hueypoxtla, in the state of Mexico. So far, no local residents have tested positive for radiation exposure. Authorities were still working on plans for cleaning up the radioactive material.

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