Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Truck carrying radioactive waste stolen near Mexico City, a threat to the US?

A truck containing a small thumb-sized payload of radioactive Cobalt-60 was stolen near Mexico City today, according to many news sources.

NBC News has a detailed story by Pete Williams here.

In the US and western countries, payloads of radioactive materials are supposed to be moved under tight security and controls.  That isn't possible in Mexico.

Apparently the payload as medical.  There is no direct evidence that it was stolen to bring it into the US, and the thieves may not know what they have.  It would be intercepted at the US border.

Authorities said that it would difficult to make this into a dirty bomb, but perhaps barely conceivable.

The IAEA has a paper on the importance of sealing radioactive sources, here.

CNN has a story by Rafael Romo and others, with some discussion of past incidents, here.

The incident occurred early Monday AM, which could mean that there could have been enough time for the vehicle to be driven to the US by now.  It's not clear when border authorities were told.
 
The scenario reminds me of the 1975 film "Sorcerer" which I saw in NYC.

Update: Later this evening

Multiple media sources report recovery of the truck, and of the canister with radioactive materials in an unpopulated area near the site of the theft.  It is not completely clear whether all of the radioactive material has been recovered.

Sources claim that smaller thefts trucks carrying hazardous materials do in Mexico, and none have looked for the materials.  But Charles Krauthammer wrote on Fox News that it is conceivable Hezbollah could try a theft like this, and there is some indication a theft was planned.  Why was material like this carried without GPS and in an unsecured manner?

The US Department of Homeland Security (and Customs) is assisting Mexico with the police investigation.  

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