Mexico prepares to recover dangerous radioactive source from field

Mexico has told the IAEA’s Incident and Emergency Centre (IEC) that it is finalising plans for the safe recovery of the dangerous radioactive source that appears to have been abandoned in a field, after the truck transporting it was stolen.

Mexico’s nuclear regulator, the Comision Nacional de Seguridad Nuclear y Salvaguardias (CNSNS), said the delicate and complex recovery operation was being carefully planned to ensure minimal radiation exposure to those involved, and to prevent damage to the source.

Radiation levels indicate that the Category 1 cobalt-60 teletherapy source, which was formerly used for cancer treatment, appears to have been removed from its shielding and is lying among crops in a field near the town of Hueypoxtla in Mexico State. Federal police have established a security cordon around the source until it can be recovered and secured in a shielded container.

The IAEA defines a Category 1 source as extremely dangerous to the person. If not safely managed or securely protected, it 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.

There is no evidence that the source itself is damaged, and no contamination has been found in nearby homes, nor in Hueypoxtla town.

Hospitals have been alerted to watch for symptoms indicating high radiation exposure resulting from close proximity to the source, which may include sickness and burns. People exposed to the source do not represent a contamination risk to others. Based on the information available, the Mexican authorities and the IAEA believe the general public is safe and will remain safe.

The truck transporting the teletherapy device was stolen on 2 December, and law enforcement authorities tracked the source down to the field at around 14:00 (20:00 UTC) on 4 December.

The IAEA remains in close contact with the Mexican authorities. It believes the actions taken in response to the discovery of the source are appropriate and follow Agency guidance for this type of event.

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