Latin America & Caribbean

Mexico recovers stolen radioactive material

A robotic arm recovers radioactive cobalt-60 and deposits it in a safe container in a field in central Mexico on 10 December, 2013
Image caption A remote-controlled robot was used to secure the radioactive source

Authorities in Mexico have recovered dangerous radioactive material which was stolen last week.

Experts from the National Nuclear Security Commission used a remote-controlled robot to place the radioactive waste into a container.

The material, 60g (2.1oz) of cobalt-60 used for cancer treatment, was stolen while it was being taken from a hospital to a waste storage facility.

Six people have been arrested in connection with the theft.

The six were taken to hospital with signs of radiation exposure shortly after their arrest, but were later given the all clear by doctors.

One of the suspects was later released by police.

Opportunistic theft

They are believed to have been oblivious to the material inside the truck, which could potentially have been used to make a "dirty bomb" - an explosive device that can spread radioactive material over a wide area.

Image caption Police found part of the radiation therapy machine in a field in Hueypoxtla

Investigators think the thieves took advantage of a security lapse by the driver, who had stopped at a petrol station to sleep.

The theft triggered an alert by the United Nation's nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which warned that the source could be "extremely dangerous to a person if removed from the shielding, or if it was damaged".

Two days after the theft, police tracked the teletherapy device down to a field near the town of Hueypoxtla in Mexico State, very close to where the truck was stolen.

The IAEA said the radioactive source contained in the device had been removed from its protective shielding, but that there was no indication it had been damaged or broken up.

The Mexican authorities say they are monitoring the area for any potential radiation exposure, and nearby hospitals have been asked to watch for symptoms of exposure.

Police believe the thieves had planned to sell the device for scrap metal.

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