Mexico safely recovers abandoned radioactive source

Mexico has told the IAEA’s Incident and Emergency Centre (IEC) that it has safely recovered the dangerous radioactive source that had been abandoned in a field after being stolen last week.

Mexico’s nuclear regulator, the Comision Nacional de Seguridad Nuclear y Salvaguardias (CNSNS), said the delicate and complex recovery operation was successfully completed on the evening of 10 December using a Federal Police robot.

The highly radioactive source had been removed from its protective shielding, but is intact and undamaged. There is no contamination to the surrounding area.

The Category 1 cobalt-60 teletherapy source, which was formerly used for cancer treatment, had been on a truck that was stolen on 2 December. The source was located two days later, abandoned among crops in a field near the town of Hueypoxtla in Mexico State.

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.

One member of the public is undergoing medical assessment in Mexico City after presenting himself with skin damage indicating overexposure to the source by carrying it over one shoulder, the CNSNS said. A further 60-70 people have presented themselves for testing but have not shown signs of overexposure.

A person exposed to the source does 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 IAEA remains in close contact with the Mexican authorities. It made an offer of good offices to Mexico when the source first went missing, and remains ready to provide assistance if requested.


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