Tepojaco (Mexico): Mexican authorities found a stolen medical device containing dangerous radioactive material outside the truck that was carrying it north of Mexico City, threatening the life of those who touched it, officials said.
Military and police forces cordoned off the area to prevent contamination after finding the teletherapy machine in a rural area north of Mexico City yesterday, two days after the truck was stolen.
The device containing cobalt-60 was taken out of its steel-reinforced wood container and left hundreds of meters (yards) from the truck in Hueypoxtla, said Mardonio Jimenez, operations director at the National Commission for Nuclear Safety and Safeguards (CNSNS).
The white Volkswagen Worker truck was transporting the device from a hospital in the northwestern city of Tijuana when it was stolen at a service station in central Hidalgo state on Monday.
The truck was supposed to deliver the material to a radioactive waste disposal facility in the central state named Mexico.
The International Atomic Energy Agency warned that the material was "extremely dangerous" if removed from its shielding. Experts also said the 60 grams of cobalt-60 inside it was enough to make a "dirty bomb."
Authorities had searched for the truck in six states and the capital, delivering radio messages for people to call an emergency number in case they saw the truck.
"We found the radioactive source removed from its container and left between 500 and 700 meters" from the truck in Mexico state, Jimenez said.
He said authorities did not know if the people who removed the device from its container were the thieves but that "what`s certain" is that the radiation they experience will kill them "because the source`s intensity is very high."
The driver told investigators that two gunmen approached him at a Pemex service station, tied him up and drove away with the truck, according to a text of the testimony shown by the Hidalgo state prosecutor`s office.
The manager of the Pemex service station, an hour`s drive north of Mexico City, told AFP the driver appeared to have parked across the street to rest overnight.
The material was on its way to the Radioactive Waste Storage Center in Maquixco, Mexico state.
The facility is surrounded by a white fence topped with barbed wire, but no armed guards were visible outside, an AFP correspondent said.
An official from the center said the truck driver had been waiting for the facility to open at 8 00 am on Tuesday.
Mexico`s drug cartels have diversified their illegal activities in recent years, stealing oil and minerals, but officials have not said who the cobalt-60 thieves might be.