The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

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December 4, 2013

Mexico: Stolen radioactive cobalt box found empty

MEXICO CITY — UPDATE:

Mexico's nuclear safety director says that missing radioactive cobalt-60 has been found near where the stolen truck transporting the material was abandoned in central Mexico state.

Juan Eibenschutz says the area is a kilometer from the nearest town and so far poses no threat or need for evacuation.

A stolen container of radioactive material was found empty Wednesday and radioactivity was detected nearby, Mexico's nuclear safety director said.

Authorities cordoned off an area about 1 kilometer (a half mile) from where the stolen truck and empty container were found in the state of Mexico, said Juan Eibenschutz, director general of the National Commission of Nuclear Safety and Safeguards.

"Fortunately there are no people where the source of radioactivity is," Eibenschutz said.

Eibenschutz said the truck was found in Hueypoxtla, an agricultural town of about 4,000 people.

The cargo truck hauling the extremely dangerous radioactive cobalt-60 from used medical equipment was stolen from a gas station early Tuesday, and authorities had put out an alert in six central states and the capital looking for it.

The truck was carrying a metal container of cobalt-60 to a nuclear waste facility in the state of Mexico, which is adjacent to Mexico City.

Eibenschutz said direct exposure to the cobalt would result in death within a few minutes.

"This is a radioactive source that is very strong," Eibenschutz told The Associated Press, adding that it can be almost immediately fatal, depending on proximity.

Eibenschutz didn't know the exact weight, but said it was the largest amount stolen in recent memory, and the intensity of the material caused the alert. Local, state and federal authorities, including the military, joined the search for the truck.

The material was used in obsolete radiation therapy equipment that is being replaced throughout Mexico's public health system. It was coming from the general hospital in the northern border city of Tijuana, Eibenshutz said.

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