MEXICO CITY – The truck stolen on Monday while it was transporting “extremely dangerous” radioactive material was found Wednesday, officials with Mexico’s National Commission for Nuclear Safety and Safeguards confirmed.
The radioactive material was said to be still with the vehicle but its container had been opened – presumably by the thieves – and removed from the truck.
“This means that the person or persons who removed it now must be feeling the symptoms of acute radiation (poisoning),” said Mardonio Jimenez, a physicist with the nuclear safety commission.
The thieves have already died or are “at the point of dying because it was a very high intensity,” he added, although since the truck was found abandoned in a rural area some 30 or 40 kilometers (19 to 25 miles) from where it was stolen authorities have said there is no danger to the general public.
Meanwhile, local media, without identifying their sources, reported that the truck was found in the town of Hueypoxtla, in the central state of Mexico.
Mexico City and six of the country’s 31 states were on alert Wednesday after the theft of what U.N. nuclear regulators described as “extremely dangerous” radioactive material used in medicine.
A truck carrying a teletherapy source containing cobalt-60 was stolen Monday in Tepojaco, a town in the central state of Hidalgo.
The vehicle was en route from a hospital in the northern border city of Tijuana to a storage facility for radioactive waste.
The search for the truck and its potentially dangerous cargo focused on Mexico City, Hidalgo, the central states of Mexico, Queretaro, Tlaxcala and Puebla and the Gulf coast state of Veracruz.
The source containing the cobalt-60 was “shielded and does not represent a risk” as long as the vessel was not broken or tampered with, Hidalgo undersecretary for emergency services Miguel Garcia Conde told Efe earlier.
Should the shielding be breached, anyone in close proximity to the radioactive material would be in grave danger, he said, though adding that “we are not talking about a community exposed to radiation.”
Mexican authorities issued an appeal to the thieves to leave the container intact.
The International Atomic Energy Agency said Wednesday that it learned of the theft from Mexico’s nuclear safety commission.
“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,” the IAEA said in a statement.