Mexican officials are working to safely recover a stolen shipment of highly radioactive cobalt-60 abandoned in a field in central Mexico.
The International Atomic Energy Agency calls the material “extremely dangerous.” It was found removed from its protective container that had been on a truck stolen Tuesday near Mexico City.
Mexico’s National Commission of Nuclear Safety and Safeguards Director General Juan Eibenschutz said it could take at least two days to safely get the material into a secure container and transport it to a waste site.
Officials said the radioactive material did not appear to have been damaged and there was no sign of contamination to the area, but a family that found the container is under medical observation.
Hospitals were placed on alert for people with radiation exposure. The atomic energy agency said “it would probably be fatal to be close to this amount of unshielded radioactive material for a period in the range of a few minutes to an hour.”
The cobalt-60 was left in a rural area about a kilometer from Hueypoxtla. Officials said it posed no threat to the residents and there was no evacuation.
The material had been removed from obsolete radiation therapy equipment at a hospital in the northern city of Tijuana and was being transported to a nuclear waste facility near Mexico City.
Eibenschutz said there was nothing to indicate the thieves were after the cobalt and most likely wanted the white 2007 Volkswagen cargo vehicle with a moveable platform and crane.
He said the transport company did not follow proper procedures and should have had GPS and security with the truck.