Tag Archives: transport nuclear materials

Dirty Bomb Defused: the 2013 theft of nuclear materials

mexico nuclear theft

Authorities on December 5, 2013 recovered dangerous radioactive material from a cancer-treating medical device that was on a stolen truck and abandoned in a field, the interior ministry said.  It was in a capsule of two centimeters in diameter and authorities are now trying to isolate it safely before taking it to its original destination at a waste storage facility, the ministry said in a statement.The radioactive cobalt-60 source, which is considered “extremely dangerous” by the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was originally inside a device that was in a steel-reinforced box in the truck.

The material was found in the town of Hueypoxtla about one kilometer (0.6 miles) from the truck, which the driver said was stolen by two gunmen at a service station on Monday.  The theft raised concerns about health risks while experts warned that the quantity of cobalt-60 — 60 grams — was enough to build a crude “dirty bomb,” though it was possible the thieves were only after the truck.

The United States said its national security team had monitored the situation “very closely” and that President Barack Obama was briefed throughout the day on December 4, 2013  as the search was on for the missing material.  “We also took appropriate precautionary steps along our shared border with Mexico,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney.  The National Commission for Nuclear Safety and Safeguards (CNSNS) said a family found the open medical device and brought it inside their home.  “We will have to keep this family under medical watch for the sole reason of being near a certain distance from the source,” CNSNS operations director Mardonio Jimenez told Milenio television, without specifying how many members were in the family.

Authorities have warned that whoever removed the radioactive material by hand was probably contaminated and could soon die. Authorities were still looking for the thieves.They said it is not clear if they are the ones who opened the box.  But Jimenez sought to reassure residents in the 40,000-population town of Hueypoxtla.  “The source is far from the population,” he said. “There is a security operation to keep them from getting near it.”

The official blamed the transport company for the incident, saying it had acted with “negligence” by not having a security escort with the truck. The device was driven from a hospital in the northwestern city of Tijuana.  The Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency also said the Mexican public “is safe and will remain safe.”  The IAEA said it had been informed by the CNSNS that the cobalt-60 was found to have been removed from its shielding “but there is no indication that it has been damaged or broken up and no sign of contamination to the area.”

The UN agency said that if not securely protected, the 60 grams of material “would be likely to cause permanent injury to a person who handled it or who was otherwise in contact with it for more than a few minutes.”  “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,” it said.  The IAEA added, however, that people exposed to the radioactive substance “do not represent a contamination risk to others.”  The incident was a reminder of the dangers posed by the huge amounts of nuclear material in hospitals and industry around the world if they are not handled properly and with sufficient security.  In particular, there are fears that extremists could steal the material and put it in a so-called dirty bomb — an explosive device spreading radioactivity over a wide area and sparking mass panic.

Mexico recovers radioactive waste that was on stolen truck, Agence France Presse, Dec. 6, 2013

Nuclear Trains, No: the costs and perils of defunct nuclear programs

UK, A plan to transport 44 tonnes of radioactive uranium and plutonium by train has run into opposition from councils worried about accidents and terrorist attacks.  The UK government’s Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) plans to make about 50 rail shipments over the next five years from the Dounreay nuclear site in Caithness to the Sellafield reprocessing complex in Cumbria.  It wants to process material left over from Britain’s long-abandoned fast breeder reactor programme – a class of reactors that aim to produce more fuel as they operate – to extract plutonium and uranium for re-use or disposal. But councils say this is dangerous and risks theft of nuclear material by terrorists en route, arguing the material should be treated as waste and “immobilised” at Dounreay.  A consultation on the plan is due to end on 31 August, and, if agreed, shipments will begin next year. The NDA argues there is a “clear and compelling strategic case” for moving the material 500km (310 miles) south. The safety record for transporting nuclear flasks is “well proven” and the environmental impact of the shipments will be “minimal”, the NDA says. Sending the material to Sellafield will cost about-