por Loren Bonner
, DOTmed News Online Editor | December 04, 2013
The International Atomic Agency reported early Wednesday that a truck carrying an old cobalt-60 unit for radiotherapy was stolen near Mexico City on Dec. 2.
Mexico's Nuclear Security Commission, or CNSNS, said the 2.5-tonne Volkswagen truck was carrying the equipment when it was hijacked at a gas station.
The truck was en route from a hospital to a radioactive waste storage center.
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The IAEA noted that the material was "properly shielded" but could still be dangerous if removed or damaged.
Experts say that much of the danger also depends on how much cobalt-60 is in the unit. The material has a half life of 5.27 years.
"With the price of recycled metals skyrocketing in certain markets, unfortunately, these devices can find their way back into the manufacturing cycle as they are added to recycled steel for the manufacture of everything from clothing items to restaurant tables," Wayne Webster, a consultant with Proactics, told DOTmed News.
There was a case in 2000 involving a discarded radiotherapy head containing cobalt 60 that killed three people in Thailand when the equipment was accidentally sold to scrap collectors. The collectors were exposed to high levels of radiation, became seriously ill and died.
The Mexican authorities are currently conducting a search for the unit and have alerted the public about the situation.